Internal displacement, the rapid growth of urban areas and proliferation of informal settlements are in the spotlight of public policy debate in Afghanistan at present. This report describes the results of a joint World Bank-UNHCR study, “Research study on IDPs in urban settings”. Part of broader World Bank research on poverty in Afghanistan, the study focuses on IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) living in informal settlements in urban centers as a vulnerable segment of the population.
The study discusses characteristics, livelihood strategies and vulnerabilities of households living in informal settlements in three urban centers in Afghanistan: Kabul, Kandahar and Herat.
Migration – either “voluntary” economic migration or “forced” due to conflict or natural disaster – has a long history in Afghanistan. For decades, Afghan households and/or individual household members have used mobility both as an “ex-post” coping mechanism for conflict and natural disaster, as well as to manage “ex-ante” risks associated with the rural economy.
Over 25 years of conflict has made Afghanistan one of the countries most affected by forced migration movements both from and within its borders. In the early 1990s, 7.5 million people were displaced: 3.2 million registered as refugees in Pakistan; 2.4 million in Iran; and approximately 2 million within Afghanistan’s borders. The end of Taliban rule in December 2001 triggered significant repatriation movements from neighboring countries. At the same time, conflict with international forces led to new internal displacement from Taliban strongholds.
The IDP population in the country is estimated at 416,593 persons / 68,151 families as of March 2011. These figures however do not capture IDPs who moved to urban centers, often informal settlements, whose numerical relevance, profile and vulnerabilities remain largely unknown. This study increases the available information on living conditions of displaced households in urban informal settlements.
The findings in this study are based on two data sources: (i) an ad-hoc small scale survey of IDPs in informal settlements conducted in summer 2010 and (ii) a nationally representative survey of Afghan households, the National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA) 2007/08. The ad-hoc IDPs survey provides both quantitative and qualitative information on backgrounds, profiles, vulnerabilities, needs and coping strategies of 450 displaced households living in informal settlements of major Afghan cities: Kabul, Herat and Kandahar. The NRVA, and in particular the urban subsample of poor households from the NRVA survey, provides a benchmark to compare the specific needs and vulnerabilities of displaced households living in informal settlements.
This study is not representative of the universe of IDPs living in informal settlements of Afghan cities, nevertheless, the comparative approach used in the analysis makes significant contributions to the debate. First, assessing IDPs’ vulnerability against those of urban poor households provides insight into the specific needs of IDPs in urban settings to better tailor policy responses. Second, the study complements the profiling of poverty and vulnerability in Afghanistan by focusing on a segment of the population not well captured by a nationally representative survey such the NRVA:
IDPs living in informal settlements.
Analysis of migration histories shows that conflict and insecurity is the main push factor leading to displacement. IDPs reported almost unanimously that they fled their villages of origin mainly as a response to conflict. However, there was less consensus regarding the second and third causes of migration. Over a third of IDPs reported food insecurity, while unemployment and underemployment was the third most important reason.