Afghanistan: Assessment of Hard-to-Reach Districts - Nationwide Overview Factsheet, Round 5 (April 2021)

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Afghanistan has endured conflict and war for decades. Yet, while peace talks have been initiated early 2020, violence has thus far remained a defining feature of the lives of many afghans. Indeed a 38% increase in civilian casualties was documented in the six months after the start of the peace talks in September 2020 in comparison to the same period a year earlier. Apart from this direct impact on the lives of average civilians, conflict also often obstructs the humanitarian response, as organisations face a range of challenges when moving staff and assets throughout the country. Outside of key transit routes, a challenging geographic environment - cumulating in the Hindu Kush - has resulted in a limited infrastructure network and physical obstacles to reaching many rural parts of Afghanistan. Inaccessibilty has only been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which started in March 2020.

Whilst movements were initially limited because of government lockdowns, humanitarian organisations have since self-restricted their own movements in line with the ‘do no harm” principle, in order to limit the spread of the virus to remote, vulnerable communities.
While constraints on humanitarian access in Afghanistan are multilayered and impact differently across districts, sectors, and individual organisations, there are common dimensions of inaccessibility that can help determine and distinguish Hard-to-Reach (HTR) areas across the country. Since 2019, the Humanitarian Access Group (HAG) has led a coordinated effort to identify Afghanistan’s most HTR districts and defined them based on three factors of inaccessibility: (1) physical constraints, (2) conflict intensity and spread, and (3) complexity of actors. Based on these dimensions, HTR districts are identified as 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, an organisation’s aim or decision to provide assistance should be based on an impartial and neutral assessment of the corresponding needs of the people, rather than on a district’s hard-to-reach status. This is not always possible, however, as security concerns often influence the ability of humanitarian actors to deliver aid. Unfortunately, conventional data collection techniques (face-to-face / 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.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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