Afghanistan Humanitarian Bulletin Issue 61 | 01 - 28 February 2017


• Mr. Mark Bowden, who finished his posting as Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan in February, farewells the humanitarian community, reflecting on his successes and challenges as HC, and what still needs to be achieved.

• Undocumented returnees receiving cash assistance under an NCRO program prioritised spending on food, rent, debt repayment and health expenses, according to a recent post distribution monitoring survey.

• With a possible 500,000 undocumented Afghans to return from Pakistan, IOM asks: after basic humanitarian assistance is distributed, what happens next?

• Samuel Hall calls for greater investment in psychosocial programming, reflecting on the findings of their new report Urban Displaced Youth in Kabul: Mental Health Matters.


550 million request (US$)

73.4 million received (US$)

Mark Bowden farewells Afghanistan

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Mr. Mark Bowden, departed Afghanistan in February. He penned the following farewell letter to the humanitarian community.

As I depart Afghanistan, I look back on an extraordinary four and a half years as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator. When I arrived, I was aware I would be engaged with humanitarian colleagues in one of the world’s longest and most protracted humanitarian crises. While I fear the humanitarian crisis will continue to deepen, I leave with a respect for all those organisations and individuals who continue to work tirelessly to provide humanitarian support and have done much to improve the way in which assistance is provided. I also remain deeply troubled that yet more families, more women and more children will face upheaval, the disruption of their lives and their future as a result of this prolonged conflict.
The challenges posed by Afghanistan’s emergency have been immense and continue to confront the humanitarian community with difficult challenges and choices in the delivery of our assistance. Over the years, I have been involved in a number of the world’s protracted crises and experience has taught me that one of the major challenges in these situations has been to both maintain and sustain the support that those affected by crisis deserve as of right.
For this reason, I must first commend the wider humanitarian community in Afghanistan for their tireless commitment to humanitarian action.
Around the country, every day thousands of men and women dedicate themselves to Afghan families with one common goal: to prevent and alleviate suffering and to save lives. They do this in difficult circumstances and often at great personal risk. Violence, threats, intimidation and kidnappings against aid workers remain unacceptably high. Yet I am heartened at the collective and enduring commitment of the humanitarian community to stay the course.
While the humanitarian community plays a critical role, I also know it is the Afghan people who are in the front line when it comes to providing assistance. It is Afghan families who support their displaced relatives. It is local communities that take in the victims of earthquakes or floods or who absorb the returnees from neighbouring countries. As I leave, I remain concerned that we have not paid enough attention as to how we better sustain the resilience of the Afghan people who continually have to face and cope with crisis. We must ensure that we do not overstretch their capacity and willingness to provide support. That is why we must seek to better manage the flow of returnees and ensure that there are practical programmes in place this year that better support the integration of both displaced and returnee populations.
From my arrival in Afghanistan in November 2012 until now, there has been a striking change in the humanitarian dynamic. Conflict continues to be the predominant driver of humanitarian need, inflicting a toll on the civilian population that includes casualties, forced displacement, and disruption of services. The shift in the last year from a largely asymmetric conflict to a war with more numerous and larger scale ground engagements have increasingly affected the civilian population. When I arrived, 2011 was seen to be the high water mark for civilian casualties. Since then there have been year on year increases in the number of civilian casualties and ever-increasing numbers of people newly displaced. The last year was significant not only in the record number of people affected by the conflict, but also in the changes in the pattern of displacement. The large IDP caseloads that now exist in Kunduz, Baghlan, Faryab, and Farah, means displacement can no longer be seen as just a phenomena of the south.
Each year when we hear of the ever-increasing civilian death toll, we must ensure we do not get numbed by the statistics or we take as normal or inevitable that civilian casualties will increase. We must guard against these numbers being used as a scorecard to determine relative blame. Instead, we must realise our advocacy on the protection of civilians into concrete policy and action by parties to the conflict. As a humanitarian community, we must determine what could and should be done to reduce the devastating impact of this conflict on the civilian population. The scorecard has to be changed to demonstrate actions that have reduced the deaths and needless civilian casualties. It is not an impossible goal. The main parties to the conflict have shown an increasing engagement on humanitarian issues and an acceptance of humanitarian principles. Afghanistan is one of the few countries with a protracted conflict where the language of international humanitarian law is widely accepted, if not always practiced.
While I have seen progress in the broader acceptance of the role and tasks of humanitarian organisations, I have also seen major setbacks in the effects of the conflict on health facilities. What I hope for in Afghanistan is not just a greater respect for IHL but positive plans to reduce the number of civilian casualties.
In the last month, Afghanistan has again reminded us that the country is prone to natural disasters. These recurrent disasters have an intensified impact due to the weak response systems in place. Going forward, it is critical that disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures be realised and taken beyond planning stages. As disaster risk systems are built, short-term humanitarian interventions must be complemented by longterm investments in capacity building and in early warning and mitigation systems.
Mitigating the impact of natural disasters is one area that highlights how the right balance between humanitarian and development assistance must be struck.
Interventions can too often expand definitions of humanitarian assistance, which can result in the creation of parallel, unsustainable structures. To truly commit to changing lives in Afghanistan and move from delivering aid to ending need, the humanitarian community has a role in moving beyond a response triggered by shock-induced events – by addressing vulnerability and risk; reinforcing rather than replacing local and national systems; and overcoming the humanitarian-development divide by working towards collective outcomes.
In January, with the Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, H.E. Dr.
Abdullah Abdullah, I launched my fourth Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan. I am pleased that during my time in Afghanistan, in the context of a protracted emergency, humanitarian appeals have been consistently better supported. As the Humanitarian Coordinator, I have promoted a focused approached to humanitarian assistance with clearly defined humanitarian objectives, leading to a significant broadening of the donor base and ongoing, robust support.
Afghanistan will continue to face important challenges and will require sustained donor assistance for the coming years. Despite heavy investment, the lives of millions of Afghans have not substantially improved and the number living in absolute poverty has increased. In 2017, we anticipate a year that 9.3 million Afghans will be in need of humanitarian assistance. While the needs and challenges are undoubtedly formidable, I believe I say farewell to a humanitarian community that is better prepared and with humanitarian structures that will continue to be strengthened in order to meet such a daunting task.
In doing so, we must never forget that behind each statistic is a human life: an Afghan woman, man or child. Each deserves protection and a right to a life of dignity. The solutions to the crises that have plunged so many Afghans into such hardship are neither simple nor quick, but we must continue to work towards it. I am confident that my successor, Mr. Toby Lanzer, will provide strong and energetic leadership to the humanitarian community in Afghanistan, and I wish him – and all with whom I have worked alongside in Afghanistan – every success.
OCHA extends our sincere appreciation to Mr. Bowden for his dedicated service to Afghanistan, and wishes him well for the future. We warmly welcome the new Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Toby Lanzer, who took up his position in early March.

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