Afghanistan: Assessment of hard-to-reach districts - Overview factsheet booklet, Round 4 (January 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 in the lives of many afghans, with the last three months of 2020 bearing witness to an increase in the number of civilians casualties. 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 spread of the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in March 2020.2 Initially, movement was restricted because of government lockdowns; since then humanitarian organisations have self-restricted their own movements due to ‘do no harm” concerns around mitigating the spread of the virus to remote, vulnerable communities.

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 Hardto-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 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.


To address the limited insight into the needs of the population living in HTR areas, and in order to ensure an evidence-based 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 the HAG, conducted the fourth round of the HTR needs assessment in January 2021, covering 120 districts 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 the ability of organisations to access such HTR areas.

While most humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan have their own access profiles which often differ, the value of defining and assessing the proposed list of HTR districts included in this assessment 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 assessment. Second, as the districts are defined according to the three dimensions of inaccessibility outlined above, the research can outline whether and how vectors of inaccessibility may relate to humanitarian needs. A better understanding of the impact of particular inaccessibility factors will strengthen the humanitarian response strategy across the entire country, not just in the included districts. Third, this project aims to monitor the humanitarian needs in HTR districts every four months. This means there is some continuity in data collection over time, which makes it easier to spot trends, analyse the impact of shocks, and respond with humanitarian assisstance accordingly

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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