Driving the humanitarian development agenda in Afghanistan
UNICEF senior officials on the road
Unprecedented? Indeed it is:
In what is arguably unprecedented in the recent history of UNICEF, the Director of Programmes, Ted Chaiban, the Director for Emergency Operations Manuel Fontaine and the Regional Director for South Asia, Jean Gough, jointly embarked on a week-long mission to a country office, #Afghanistan. The team visited Mazar i Sharif and surrounding districts in Balkh Province in the north, Shaidayi and Karizak IDP settlements, in Injib District, Herat Province in the west and the Islam Qala border point between Afghanistan and Iran, to see at first hand efforts being made to address humanitarian and development needs amongst vulnerable populations.
A mix of chronic underdevelopment, protracted and active conflict
Afghanistan epitomizes a complex mix of chronic underdevelopment, protracted and active conflict, compounded by climate change and a dynamic political environment, with the UN and broader international community grappling to address the myriad needs of communities, families and children. The cautious optimism of the recent three-day Eid cease fire that saw unprecedented movement of parties to the conflict across ‘frontlines’ was unfortunately short lived, with active conflict and suicide attacks once more in full force.
The situation has been further worsened by slow economic recovery with real GDP growth 2.6% in 2017, giving rise to growing insecurity and limited private sector investment. The country remains heavily dependent on aid and donor grants, poverty is on the increase from 39% in 2013 to 54% in 2018 and unemployment close to 24%.
The revolving door
On the political front, parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in October 2018 and presidential elections in April 2019. As of 30 June, there were 7.8 million voters registered representing 57.7% of the total estimated eligible population. Only 33,6% of these were women. Regional tensions remain with some of Afghanistan’s neighbours with constant population movement, known as the ‘revolving door’, and it being anticipated that the evolving economic situation in Iran may further affect the patterns of population movement between the two countries.
Humanitarian - development agenda in action
Against this backdrop, the team, Ted Chaiban, Manuel Fontaine, and Jean Gough, were taken deep field to Kangori Village in Sholgara District in Balkh Province, on difficult terrain, about an hour and a half drive from the capital Mazar i Sharif. Here the team saw at first hand the direct impact of the drought where villagers have to walk 5km one way to access water. The already impoverished community is in dire need, having lost minimal livelihoods with failed crops and increased mortality amongst animals. UNICEF is providing water trucking as a lifesaving intervention but this falls far short of the daily requirements of 15 litres per person per day. This is just one of five drought affected districts in Balkh province impacting almost 132,000 persons most of whom are children.
As part of efforts to bridge the humanitarian development divide plans are underway for durable solutions through the provision of boreholes and building new piped system using long distance spring or stream sources, as well as gravity system to cover multi villages as a long term solution.
Regional Director for South Asia, Jean Gough & UNICEF Afghanistan Representative Adele Khodr engaged with a cross section of women in the village, covering issues of birth registration, maternal mortality, vaccination, education especially for girls and access to water. “Basic social services are a right, but for this community a real privilege”, says Gough.
Community based approach - the key to achieving results for children
With a strong field presence of five zonal offices and eight outposts across all five regions of Afghanistan (north, south, east, west and central), UNICEF’s niche lies in the ability to bring the realities on the ground to the policy table and vice versa. In Charkent District, Balkh Province, the team met with the dynamic District Governor, Salima Mazari, who happens to be one of only three female governors across nearly 400 districts in Afghanistan, children and teachers at a community based school, child protection action networks and young community health workers at the frontline, providing critical maternal and child health interventions to remote communities as part of the basic package of health services. A moving moment for the team was when they met with 13-year-old Roqia whose father burst into tears as he explained why he gave his young daughter in marriage to a 65-year-old man on the offer of 200,000 AFG (almost US$3,000) to take care of his household of ten. This planned marriage was stopped thanks to the timely intervention of the Child Protection Action Network (CPAN) who also ensured the family benefitted from some cash transfer.
Meeting the myriad needs of children and ensuring greater programme intensity and convergence needs commitment and dedication at all levels. The team of directors met with key government officials, including the Ministers of Education and Rural Rehabilitation and Development as well as donors. “In a fragile context such as Afghanistan, ensuring effective policy frameworks, building systems, strengthening capacities and increasing public sector investment especially at the district level will be crucial to peace, stability and national development”, says Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Programmes, New York. “This can only be achieved through effective and concerted partnerships”, Chaiban emphasized.
Because Every Child Counts
Despite the volatile and complex operating environment UNICEF Afghanistan remains, one of the longest serving development and humanitarian partner with over 65 years on the ground, the exclusive and leading provider for many critical services for children such as vaccines, RUTF and teaching and learning materials for children; has one of the largest field presence, remains a knowledge leader for children, the provider of last resort across lifesaving sectors such as WASH, nutrition and education and the strongest voice for children…And we will never walk away!