INTRODUCTION & CONTEXT
After decades of conflict, the population of Afghanistan continues to suffer from the on-going crisis, with 2019 being the most violent year on record. In addition to the direct impact of Afghanistan’s conflict on civilians, it also often obstructs the required humanitarian response, with organisations facing a range of challenges to move staff and assets throughout the country. Outside of key transit routes, decades of fighting and a challenging geographic environment, cumulating in the Hindu Kush, have furthermore resulted in a limited infrastructure network and physical obstacles to reach many rural areas of Afghanistan. Accessibility has been further impeded by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across Afghanistan since March 2020. This has had an impact in two ways, firstly government imposed lock-downs led-to movement restrictions, and secondly, ‘do no harm’ concerns around mitigating spread has limited in-person data collection to areas where remote approaches are not possible.
While constraints on humanitarian access in Afghanistan are multi-layered and impact differently across districts, sectors, and individual organisations, there are common dimensions of inaccessibility that can help determine and distinguish Hard-toReach (HTR) areas across the country. In 2019, the Humanitarian Access Group (HAG) led a coordinated effort to identify a list of Afghanistan’s HTR districts and defined them across three factors of inaccessibility: (1) physical constraints, (2) conflict intensity, and (3) complexity of actors. Based on these dimensions, HTR districts are areas that humanitarian actors struggle to access and provide assistance to, due to (1) their remoteness and poor infrastructure, (2) on-going armed clashes, and / or (3) the presence of one or multiple armed actors that actively limits access to areas under their control.
From a humanitarian perspective, whether a district is hard-toreach or not should not matter for an organisation’s aim or decision to provide assistance, as this must be based on an impartial and neutral assessment of the corresponding needs of the people. Unfortunately, conventional data collection techniques (face-toface / telephone interviews), which facilitate an evidence-based humanitarian response, are equally limited and undermined by the access restrictions that implementing partners face. As a result, the humanitarian community in Afghanistan lacks reliable data and monitoring tools to assess and track needs and vulnerabilities of people in HTR areas.
To address the limited insight into humanitarian needs of population leaving in HTR areas and in order to ensure an evidence-base for a humanitarian response in all areas of Afghanistan, irrespective of access, REACH, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Inter-Cluster Coordination Team (ICCT), and HAG, conducted in July/ August 2020 a third round of needs assessment in 120 districts previously classified as hard-to-reach.
The HTR assessment aims to identify and regularly monitor humanitarian needs and vulnerabilities of populations in HTR districts. The immediate objective of this assessment is to provide an evidence-base to inform the humanitarian response in Afghanistan towards the areas of greatest need, irrespective of access constraints, while keeping in mind that the response remains dependent on organisations actually being able to access these HTR areas.
While no humanitarian organisation in Afghanistan will agree on the same set of HTR districts, as each has its own access profile, the value of defining and assessing the proposed list of HTR districts is threefold. First, while individual organisations may have full or partial access in some of the included districts, the districts’ general inaccessibility means they are among the least well understood areas of Afghanistan and require more thorough and streamlined assessment. Second, as the districts are defined and measured according to the three dimensions of inaccessibility outlined above, the research can begin to understand whether and how vectors of inaccessibility may relate to humanitarian needs.
A better understanding of the impact of particular inaccessibility factors would strengthen the humanitarian response strategy across the entire country, not just the included districts. Third, this project aims at monitoring the humanitarian needs in those HTR districts every four months, which will allow for an insight into the impact of shocks in these areas as well as a timely prioritisation of humanitarian assistance.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.