Sowing the seeds of development in humanitarian action

Conflict and chronic under development flip side of the same coin?

By Alison Parker
UNICEF Afghanistan
03 February 2019

KABUL, 3 February 2019 - In a protracted and active crisis such as Afghanistan, with four decades of war, conflict and chronic underdevelopment mutually reinforce each other in a vicious cycle. The year 2018 was especially challenging, with a spike in violence, unprecedented levels of drought and food insecurity and increased poverty in a context of very fragile social systems. The year was marked by a higher number of security incidents compared to past years, with increased suicide bombings, aerial strikes and insecurity on the roads. Children formed 90 per cent of civilian casualties due to explosive remnants of war, being exposed to death or disability, with a substantial number becoming orphaned.

Conflict has hampered growth by: inducing displacement; preventing or severely constraining the expansion of basic social services; increasing the operational costs of development and rehabilitation projects; discouraging private investment in several key economic sectors; and increasing the fiscal burden of security expenditure at the expense of investment in development, especially its human resource.  The development agenda on the other hand plays a critical role in establishing foundations and in addressing some of the root causes of conflict in Afghanistan, including weak governance and cumulative erosion of basic social structures and systems at all levels of society – national, provincial, district, community and household.

UNICEF Afghanistan

The loop continues…

Today in Afghanistan, 3 out of 10 children are experiencing psychosocial distress; 4 out of 10 children under-five are stunted and 1 out of 10 are wasted.  Approximately 2 million children under five years of age require treatment for acute malnutrition. one in three persons in Afghanistan does not have access to clean drinking water and about half of the population do not have access to basic sanitation services. The situation has been further compounded by recurrent and severe drought this year, resulting in massive displacements especially in the west and north= with worsening food insecurity and acute malnutrition- in an already dire situation, leaving some 3.6 million people across the worst affected provinces in need of life saving assistance.

‘A skillfully woven tapestry’ – balancing the humanitarian action & development considerations as protracted conflicts become the new norm

With violence and conflict in Afghanistan spanning more than 30 years, and unfortunately still counting in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Central Africa Republic, to name but a few, we see lifesaving humanitarian action increasingly becoming longer term investments. 

With the growing demand for value for money and greater efficiency and effectiveness, building durable solutions into humanitarian action as an integral part of bridging the humanitarian development nexus is arguably no longer a debate but an imperative. Balancing the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence in humanitarian action, vis a vis building sustainable systems and structures, will remain a skillfully woven tapestry, without which many lives can be lost and vulnerable people, especially children, be left behind conflict frontlines and political fault lines. 

UNICEF Afghanistan

Demonstrating this nexus: Can development dividend evolve from humanitarian action?

The 2018 drought, resulted in water sources either completely dried up or the quantity of water significantly depleted, affected about 2.8 million people. This has seriously impacted rural communities and resulted in displacement and increased risk of communicable diseases for communities. UNICEF Afghanistan embarked on a two-prong approach by providing lifesaving water supplies through water trucking to more than one million people, whilst concurrently working with Government and partners to develop long term, sustainable water supply solutions through the design and development of climate-friendly solar-powered gravity fed systems.  This gravity fed systems were established in places of origin to address vulnerabilities to disasters and contribute to building resilience and potentially helping reduce rural-urban migration.

Similarly, is the expansion of the paradigm of nutrition action, to focus both on treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition and to expand actions on prevention. In effect, this approach may eventually reduce expenses related to treatment allowing for more investment in longer-term solutions. This is fully embraced and led by the Government, especially the Ministry of Public Health, as well as the Afghanistan National Food Security and Nutrition Agenda (AFSeN-A) technical secretariat, central to multi sector prevention work. In the same vein, an important action undertaken this year in response to the drought situation in the west of Afghanistan has been the further decentralization of the treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition to sub health center level. This was a measure taken by UNICEF in the province of Badghis to enable the treatment services to be closer to communities and increase reach of affected children. The action has so far proven to be quite successful and advocacy efforts are underway with key partners to take the approach to scale. Should the Government buy in continue, then what would have started as an emergency action focusing on systems’ strengthening to reach an increasing number of severely malnourished children in one area of the country could result in treatment of larger numbers across the country, at a lower cost and through existing service delivery channels.

A compelling imperative…

Our mandate for children is a compelling imperative. Regardless of the complexities, politics, or cultural issues at play, we can get things done. There is no social condition that we do not work to improve, no logistical hurdle we won’t try to surmount, and no system we are not willing to challenge.  ‘Reaching the hardest to reach, the furthest from help, the most excluded is why we stay to the end’.  And while we stay we have proven approaches that demonstrate the opportunities to respond to emergency lifesaving  needs while also strengthening existing systems to stay for children in the long run.