WFP Supports Afghanistan’s Most Vulnerable People Through Difficult Winter

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Shiwa at a shop in Kabul, redeeming her e-money with food Items. © Photo: WFP/Eoin Casey

Across Afghanistan, WFP is using cash-based transfers and has pre-positioned vital supplies to ensure that those who need it most have food during the winter months.

A challenging situation

Winter in Afghanistan is harsh. With temperatures regularly sliding well below freezing, much of the country is inaccessible and snow-covered for months on end. These challenging conditions affect Afghanistan’s large vulnerable populations more than most.

Shiwa has been living in a house made of mud and plastic sheeting for the past three years. The 26-year-old, along with her husband and five children, are one of the countless families living in Kabul’s informal settlements (KIS)– a collection of temporary communes dotted around Afghanistan’s capital city, housing displaced people who have left their homes due to conflict, natural disasters, or severe poverty.

Living conditions in KIS are very challenging. There is no running water or adequate sanitation facilities, and what little electricity is available there comes from a few small solar panels. Families heat their homes by burning wood, though many are forced to resort to burning rubbish or other materials that they can find.

Technology changing how we work

This winter, WFP is providing families like Shiwa’s with vital food assistance through an innovative cash-based transfers (CBT) programme. Instead of handing out food directly to families at KIS, WFP registers them to receive e-vouchers through their mobile phones. Recipients can then go to nearby participating stores and purchase the food they need. The CBT modality helps mitigate the risk of WFP’s in-kind food assistance being sold in the markets, as was the case in previous years, in particular with high energy biscuits. WFP will support over 4,600 families living in KIS for a period of two months, seeing them through until spring.

This pioneering form of assistance is grounded in the principle that people know best what food it is that they need to feed their families. As well as putting the choice in their hands, CBT programmes result in increased business for nearby retailers, which has positive knock on effects for the local economy.

“This is very good that we can select our food. It’s much better than the assistance we were provided in previous years. This allows us to select meat, oil, rice and any other food items we would like to buy,” said Shiwa.

Giving people choice

E-voucher-based transfers have been used by WFP in Afghanistan since 2014. It was first piloted for a few hundred families in the Kabul region. Since the initial pilot’s success, CBT has been expanded to other WFP activities and in 2015 it accounted for almost USD 3 million worth of assistance, bringing food to 120,000 people nationwide.

“This is perfect assistance–the choice of food selection is ours. We can buy any type of food now,” said Mohammad Rasoul 37, a displaced person living in KIS.

WFP also faces the challenges of Afghanistan’s winter by pre-positioning food in the country’s remote and hardest to reach areas, such as the provinces of Badakhshan in the north, and Nuristan in the east. Before this winter’s onset, WFP pre-positioned nearly 3,500 metric tons of food in 46 of the remotest districts in the country–enough to feed 220,000 people.

While the Afghan winter can be unforgiving, WFP stands ready to bring food assistance to those who need it most.