Rising insecurity in Afghanistan continued to exact a heavy toll on the civilian population as people fell victim to armed conflict, general intimidation and harassment, tribal disputes and cross-border shelling. These created successive waves of displacement. By the end of 2011, there were 447,000 people displaced as a result of conflict, 45 per cent up on 2010. At the same point, there were 5,700,000 returned refugees, with a further five million still residing in Iran and Pakistan. Reintegration conditions remained extremely difficult, with returnees often lacking basic services, while deteriorating security conditions worsened problems of access for humanitarian workers.
The extreme winter conditions in Afghanistan, along with the country’s vulnerability to flooding and landslides, drought and earthquakes, continue to impact on humanitarian work and generate new needs. The drought declared in July 2011, the eighth in eleven years, affected almost three million people across fourteen provinces in the north, northeast and west of the country.
Through the 2011 Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) for Afghanistan, the Humanitarian Country Team requested support of US$582 million which was almost 70 per cent funded in 2011. This funding level was matched by donor contributions to humanitarian programmes outside the CAP.
To meet the expectations of partners in a very fluid environment, OCHA has refocused its attention on core responsibilities: tightening coordination, renovating its information management tools and consolidating humanitarian financing.
As of October 2011, OCHA had proper information management capacity. This has enabled OCHA to collect, filter and disseminate information on administrative and conflict issues and to create effective hazard profiles.
Clusters provided information on priority needs while their own response at district level was mapped and analyzed, enabling better decision-making by the humanitarian community. More than 100 IM products were issued in the fourth quarter, which helped to shape the discussions on 2012 CAP planning whilst also establishing concrete baselines for performance monitoring in the period ahead.
The HCT worked to strengthen accountability and transparency, following up on action points through inter-cluster coordination mechanisms. The humanitarian response to the drought was conducted within the framework of a drought coordination cell established by the Government and saw the first ever emergency food security assessment conducted in Afghanistan. This formed the basis of a governmental and multi-cluster response. During the fourth quarter, the Global Food Security Coordinator visited Afghanistan twice to support a recalibration of the operation of cluster processes and related roles and responsibilities. Preparation was also made for the introduction of the integrated food security phase classification in the first six months of 2012. This approach establishes the baseline for all clusters moving forward. The formation of Regional Humanitarian Team forums in 2011 also supported more effective planning and responsive action at provincial and district levels.
The drought experience also enabled OCHA to lead a more detailed discussion on the issue of a ‘human development deficit’. Eight droughts in eleven years, each requiring a humanitarian response, have highlighted the failure to introduce long-term solutions that go beyond simple relief. For refugees and IDPs, OCHA has supported the work of UNHCR and the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation to develop a regional solutions strategy whereby the focus shifts from emergency relief and assistance towards multi-annual development solutions which support reintegration into communities. Advocacy for progress on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal targets in Afghanistan, which have been postponed from 2015 to 2020, is a key intervention towards addressing the root cause of population needs.
The use of international military actors to provide “assistance” through Provincial Reconstruction Teams has resulted in uneven resource allocation country-wide and a blurring of the delicate lines between military and humanitarian action. In response, OCHA Civil-Military Coordination advocated at central, regional and local levels to ensure clear lines of communication were established, while pushing successfully with ISAF to issue its SOP on humanitarian assistance and disaster response. These commit ISAF to compliance with IASC guidelines, and improved communication and information-sharing mechanisms.
Tightening financial management was another OCHA priority. OCHA worked closely with UN agencies, NGO and donors to make humanitarian spending more accountable and to highlight financing mechanisms outside the CAP. OCHA ensured the formation of the Emergency Response Fund (ERF) Advisory Board and updated its Terms of Reference to better reflect the needs of donors and participating NGOs at times of acute needs.
The Food Security Cluster provided valuable lessons on operational coordination in the fourth quarter, clarifying roles, responsibilities and tools with humanitarian partners and the relevant GoIRA authorities. A cluster functionality matrix will be developed to monitor effectiveness and identify best practices and gaps. A dedicated OCHA inter-cluster coordinator will be appointed to ensure the coherence of the cluster approach, fostering links between clusters and enhancing communication between coordination mechanisms at Kabul and at regional level.
Effective information management should include provincial matrices, documenting humanitarian caseloads, basic services, access levels, seasonal hazards and contact list-information networks. All are necessary to get a proper understanding of both humanitarian and development needs. Having real-time access to this information is crucial for decision-making by the Government, HCT, the Humanitarian Donor Group and other key forums throughout the programme cycle.
Humanitarian appeals in Afghanistan have varied hugely in scale and scope over the past decade as a result of the blurring between humanitarian, development and recovery interventions and have also been supplemented by other humanitarian financing instruments. The 2012 CAP has refocused on core humanitarian objectives and a monthly reporting system that will seek greater transparency. Addressing gender issues will be part of that process. In 2012, the coding applied to individual projects under the Gender Marker system will be monitored to determine the level of equitable access to assistance and protection each projects for women, girls, boys and men. The results will hopefully improve the integrity and consistency of the coding system.
The ongoing military transition in Afghanistan is expected to have a negative impact on the outlook for both humanitarian and development work between now and 2014. The anticipated socio-economic shocks associated with military withdrawal and the related reduction of the currently high rates of external assistance raise serious questions about the sustainability of basic services and the welfare of those who benefit from them. With or without the background of conflict, these shocks pose significant risks, with real concerns that the acute needs of the chronically vulnerable will not be met and will require increased humanitarian intervention.