Development News from Afghanistan

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Talking poverty in Afghanistan

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By Grant Curtis
Source: Asian Development Bank / Date: 03 Jan 2008

THE FIRST snows of winter have begun to fall in Badakhshan, a mountainous province in northeastern Afghanistan. A weak sun tries to break through a haze of fog and dust as our horses pick their way along the steep and rocky path that winds alongside a boulder-filled river valley.

We are headed for remote Yosaif village, home to some 75 households, or about 650 people, that to date has received no development assistance or other support through internationally supported efforts to rebuild Afghanistan’s war-torn society and economy.

We are here to present to village leaders the findings of a pilot participatory poverty assessment (PPA) funded through the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Management for Development Results Cooperation Fund.

Over the past five months, three member organizations of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) have facilitated in-depth discussions about poverty and the effects it has on the lives of ordinary Afghans. The discussions have been held with men and women in eight communities in four of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. The results are important because they will help guide the government of Afghanistan and the international community in the finalization of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy – the road map for the country’s continued reconstruction and development.

Afghanistan is ranked as the fourth poorest or most deprived country in the world, and the poorest country in the entire Asia-Pacific region, according to the Afghanistan 2007 Human Development Report.

Surprisingly, however, little is known about the scope or nature of poverty in Afghanistan, or the impact poverty has on the lives of the country’s estimated 30 million people. With no census over the past 30 years, even the country’s population is unknown, with more than 1 million Afghans still seeking refuge in neighboring Pakistan and Iran as the result of more than 30 years of war.

The PPA, conducted in both rural and urban communities in Badakhshan, Herat, Nangarhar, and Uruzgan provinces, has featured discussions about various aspects or dimensions of poverty, including education, health, gender, institutions of government, justice and security, livelihoods, markets, power relationships, and rights and entitlements. The focus of these discussions has been on how the various interrelationships between such aspects contribute to becoming or ceasing to be poor. The exercise, the first of its kind in Afghanistan, has utilized a range of participatory appraisal techniques to focus discussions with the communities, and to help villagers both understand and explain how poverty shapes their lives.

Oxfam (Great Britain) has been the PPA implementing partner in Badakhshan. Oxfam has supported relief and reconstruction projects in the province since 1998, when a major earthquake destroyed many villages. The PPA discussions have been facilitated by a team of Oxfam female and male community development workers, with guidance from a small PPA team established by ACBAR to manage the overall PPA exercise. In Badakhshan, the PPA discussions have been held in two communities: Shaykhan, a village where Oxfam has worked for a number of years; and Yosaif, a more remote community that has received no development assistance to date.

Arriving in Yosaif, we are welcomed by the village elders. In accordance with Islamic tradition, most activities in Afghanistan are segregated along gender lines, with the PPA discussions thus conducted in parallel with female and male villagers. Oxfam’s female PPA staff, clad in sky-blue burkas, disappear to meet with the village’s women, while we gather with the village’s men in the shura, or traditional village council, communal meeting room, seated on pomegranate-red carpets and cushions spread around the room’s perimeter, with cups of steaming green tea to ward off the cool December temperatures.

After the long series of poverty-focused discussions with the village, conducted over a period of two months, today’s meeting is to validate the overall findings of the PPA for Yosaif village. This is done by confirming with the village representatives the major points, issues and concerns presented by the community through the participatory appraisal process. As Oxfam staff verbally present the findings, outlined on flipchart paper posted on the shura meeting room walls, turbaned heads nod with assent. “Yes, you have heard us well,” says one bearded elder.

The PPA process has included wrap-up meetings in three of the provincial capitals. Because of poor security, a wrap-up meeting could not be held in Uruzgan province. The meetings have allowed village representatives to discuss their poverty-related concerns with provincial government staff. With separate financing from USAID, video presentations have been made of the three meetings. In addition, radio and television “round-tables” have been organized in Kabul, where representatives from the eight target communities have shared their PPA findings with government officials and other stakeholders. Based on such discussions and dialogue, ACBAR also is preparing a series of advocacy papers that highlight key poverty-related issues.

In addition to validation of the PPA findings for Yosaif village, today’s meeting includes a screening of the video of the provincial consultations.

Using a portable generator, and with a bed sheet as an improvised screen, the video is shown to the villagers. Not in the least intimidated by the technology, the village men give close attention to the video, again nodding in agreement to the cogent and often very eloquent statements made by representatives from each of the PPA target communities, and noting, with particular interest, statements made by women representatives.

Like many communities in Afghanistan, Yosaif village is very conservative, and particularly with respect to gender issues. Watching the video, and seeing the active and vocal participation of women from the other PPA communities, the shura decides that the voices of the women of Yosaif also should be documented.

As a result, Mitra Khaleghian, the Team Leader for the Badakhshan PPA team, is summoned from the meeting with village women and is given a hasty lesson on the operation of a documentary-quality video camera. She then goes to capture on videotape the faces and voices of Yoisef’s women.

She later reports an almost transformational change in the Yosaif women. While they had participated fully in the PPA process, and been very vocal, “They were galvanized,” she later said. “Seeing other Afghan village women talk about poverty and their daily lives, the women of Yousaif seemed even more committed to presenting how poverty is at the root of Afghanistan’s many development challenges”.

After too short a time, we say good-bye to the village of Yoisaif, and with winter clouds descending ever lower, mount our horses for the trip back to the nearest district town.

The PPA discussions, including an overall report on PPA findings now under preparation by ACBAR, will contribute toward the finalization of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). The full ANDS is expected by March 2008, following an extensive process that has included the elaboration of ministry and sectoral strategies, the preparation of provincial development plans, as well as other sub-national consultations, including the PPA exercise.

The ANDS, which will have the status of a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), will guide the government and its development partners in the achievement of Afghanistan’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the Afghanistan Compact, a unique agreement between the government and people of Afghanistan and the international community to bring lasting peace and development to the country.

Based on the success of the pilot participatory poverty assessment, ACBAR is now planning a larger, more extensive participatory assessment exercise that will provide even more information about poverty in Afghanistan.

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Written by afghandevnews

January 6, 2008 at 6:03 am

Posted in Aid, Economy

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