Afghanistan: Ensuring two-way communication between humanitarians and affected people

6 November, 2013
2012, Badakhshan, Afghanistan: A village swamped by an avalanche in Badakhshan, northern Afghanistan. An improved approach to disaster assessment is helping aid agencies and the government provide quicker and more appropriate assistance to affected communities. Credit: OCHA
2012, Badakhshan, Afghanistan: A village swamped by an avalanche in Badakhshan, northern Afghanistan. An improved approach to disaster assessment is helping aid agencies and the government provide quicker and more appropriate assistance to affected communities. Credit: OCHA

The remote eastern province of Badakhshan is often referred to as Afghanistan’s natural disaster capital. Crammed between China, Pakistan and Tajikistan, the Province takes in the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges, along with a mixed terrain of deserts, grasslands, savannahs, scrub and forests.

In 2011, it was one of the regions severely affected by a drought that left 2.8 million people across the country in need of aid. The following year, many of the same Badakhshan communities were hit by heavy snowfall that triggered deadly avalanches that killed 29 people. But many more people were affected, as some of the worst-affected areas were cut off from aid for weeks.

The response was further undermined by incoherence among aid agencies: each group used its own means of assessing communities’ needs. This lack of coordination led to disjointed and, at times, ineffective responses.

A common assessment approach

According to one estimate, approximately 4.7 million Afghans were affected by floods, droughts and other disasters between 2003 and 2012. In 2010, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Afghanistan proposed a standardized assessment approach: the Afghanistan Inter-Sectoral Rapid Assessment Form (RAF). It aimed to provide an overview of the needs, vulnerabilities and capacities of disaster-affected communities.

The RAF was launched in 2012. It was developed in two local languages–Dari and Pashto–to capture communities’ real and nuanced needs. Placing these assessments in the hands of the local government and aid staff means that the reviews can be carried out quickly.

“A rapid assessment using the RAF is conducted through structured interviews, normally within 24 to 48 hours after a disaster has occurred,” said Dr. Mohammad Naseer, a Humanitarian Affairs Officer with OCHA Afghanistan. “Ideally it should be followed up with a detailed household assessment.”

Giving people a voice

Since the humanitarian response to the avalanches in Badakhshan in 2012, the RAF has been embraced by ANDMA and humanitarian agencies as a way to assess the unique needs of people in the disaster-prone region.

In October, more than 70 staff from the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), OCHA and IOM travelled from across Afghanistan to participate in an RAF training in Kabul.

“When we use this tool to assess the victims of disasters, we are able to speak with the people in their own tongue to understand their individual needs,” said Abdul Maqsood of ANDMA Badakhshan. “We are giving them a voice.”

“Their right to be heard”

Abdul Sabur works for ANDMA in Ghor Province in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan, where a recent dry spell has caused widespread crop failures. He says that the RAF helped him to better understand the level of food insecurity his neighbours are facing.

“I come from a very isolated part of the country,” he said. “I travelled for three days by road and on foot to attend this training. At times I had to walk across mountains because the roads were not safe to travel.”

A recent assessment mission to the Central Highlands found that 80 per cent of rain-fed areas were affected by the drought. Humanitarian organizations provided food assistance to about 10,000 of the worst-hit families, as well as cash-transfers for some communities in the hardest-hit Province of Ghor.

The RAF will be tested in many other regions of Afghanistan. Participants in the Kabul training will now conduct regional RAF trainings in their provincial capitals. It is anticipated that more than 600 humanitarians will be trained to conduct standardized assessments across Afghanistan in 2014.

By engaging with ANDMA on the RAF, OCHA and IOM hope that two-way communication between humanitarians and affected people will become a predictable and consistent element of preparedness and humanitarian response efforts in Afghanistan.

“Tools such as the RAF ensure that disaster-affected communities are empowered to exercise their right to be heard, and to be active participants in their own recovery,” said Aidan O’Leary, Head of OCHA Afghanistan.