Despite significant development gains over the last decade, Afghanistan remains at the bottom of humanitarian and development rankings (such as the European Community's humanitarian office (ECHO) and the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index). Recurring natural hazards, including drought, floods, landslides and earthquakes, and 34 years of conflict have left people in Afghanistan in a state of deep vulnerability. An estimated 450,000 Afghans are internally displaced, of whom almost 100,000 were displaced in 2012. Afghanistan also has the world’s largest refugee returnee population of 5.7 million people.
From the conflict-affected south and east to the disaster-prone north, many of Afghanistan‘s most vulnerable people struggle to access life-saving assistance. Basic service provision and presence of humanitarian partners, especially in insecure conflict areas, are often very limited. Rough terrain, poor infrastructure and harsh winters add to the challenge of accessing people in need, particularly in rural areas.
Between May and October 2012, OCHA led a strategic review of coordination structures in Afghanistan. It scrutinized the need for 11 clusters and examined coordination requirements at the regional and provincial level. In October the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) agreed (in principle) to reduce the number of clusters and working groups/networks to a minimum of three. The HCT also decided to set up provincial-level ‘operational coordination teams’ across the country with regional clusters only where required by the national clusters. OCHA will further strengthen coordination with the recruitment of a senior-level inter-cluster coordinator.
In November 2012, OCHA re-started the Emergency Response Fund (ERF) for Afghanistan following the ERF global review. It has since received more than $5.6 million. The fund will focus on life-saving action resulting from conflict and displacement in the south. The ERF review board includes seven NGOs and national cluster coordinators. As part of broader efforts to make the fund accessible to national NGOs, OCHA translated ERF application forms into Dari and Pasto.
The total number of security incidents against humanitarian workers decreased in 2012 compared with 2011, in line with the reduced level of security incidents countrywide, according to the International NGO Safety Organisation. There were 164 violent events in which NGOs were involved. Eleven deaths and 26 injuries were recorded against NGO humanitarian workers in 2012. In April 2012 OCHA started using the access monitoring and reporting framework to monitor access constraints across the country. All the nine constraints impeded access in Afghanistan in 2012, the most significant of which is the presence of improvised explosive devices, mines and unexploded ordinance.
OCHA produced 3W maps of the total humanitarian presence in Afghanistan, down to the district level, throughout 2012. Having shown that there is an under-representation of humanitarian agencies in the south and east of the country, OCHA has raised humanitarian actors’ awareness of the principle of impartiality in humanitarian aid. A key element of the term “impartial” is proportionality, or that assistance will be afforded according to need, a principle firmly embedded in international humanitarian law.
OCHA has worked to ensure that UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) in Afghanistan is fit for purpose. Following a review of the service agreement was reached to service 10 new deep-field locations, reconfigure the aircraft fleet, include dedicated rotary capacity for humanitarians and reduce the cost of airfares to NGO partners to support the operations cost-effective transport to the field.
One of OCHA’s key advocacy achievements was drafting the HCT statement as part of the preparations for the NATO summit held in Chicago. With OCHA support, the HCT also worked on the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief position paper for a high-level conference in Tokyo and issued a statement for ECHO/Norwegian Refugee Council conference on principled humanitarian financing in Brussels. OCHA prepared press releases and held media events for high-level missions to highlight humanitarian needs in Afghanistan. To support this work, OCHA established the HCT Working Group on Advocacy.
OCHA supported the HCT in setting up an Early Preparedness Working Group in 2012. The group prepared a multi-agency rapid appraisal tool, contingency plans for spring floods, and generated comprehensive records of stockpiles and prepositioned goods for the winter of 2012-13.
With the field deployment of four new staff - two deputy heads of office, a humanitarian affairs officer in the cluster coordination unit, and a humanitarian affairs officer in the central region - OCHA was better able to support humanitarian advocacy, pooled financing, coordination structures, prioritisation of the 2013 appeal and preparedness for the winter.
OCHA worked to improve information collection, analysis and prioritization of projects in the in the 2013 CHAP. The document now ranks the 34 provinces according to vulnerability and humanitarian service-provider density and the requested amount ($471 million) is generally considered to be in line with actual needs and the humanitarian communities ability to deliver.
OCHA and the relevant clusters produced a humanitarian gap analysis which has proved a powerful tool for analysis and decision-making about the geographic location and sectors to apply scarce resources for meeting the needs of the most affected. Feedback from donors has so far indicated strong support for this new analytical and strategic approach.