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Archive for March 6th, 2012

Afghan returnees, begs for help – Sustainable solutions needed

Posted by African Press International on March 6, 2012

AFGHANISTAN: Towards more sustainable solutions for returnees

Baswra, an Afghan returnee, begs for help

JALALABAD/SARACHA,  – Baswra squats on a dirty street corner in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, watching fellow Afghans walk by with packages of assistance from aid agencies. When the door to the distribution site opens, she throws herself at it, waving documents in the face of anyone who will hear her story.

A widow, Baswra returned from a refugee camp in the tribal areas of Pakistan in 2002. Ten years later, she still has no land and no income.

“I don’t know where to look for help,” she pleads to Mohammad Eamal, a programme associate with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

He studies her documents and informs her that she falls outside the mandate of assistance.

The aid being distributed on this day is targeted at vulnerable Afghan refugees who have recently returned from Pakistan to a homeland that cannot absorb them. Like Basrwa, many no longer have land and cannot find jobs in their villages of origin.

“We’re focusing on the vulnerable of recent years. We can’t help everyone,” Eamal tells IRIN, as Baswra waits expectantly, a pout covering her missing teeth.

She spends her days shuttling in plastic sandals and a dirty shawl from the Department of Refugees and Repatriation (DoRR), where she has applied – unsuccessfully – for a land allocation to this aid distribution point, looking for help for herself and her six children.

“We assume that those who arrived years ago have been able to resettle,” Eamal says. He looks at Baswra and then adds: “But we have found that many don’t.”

Biggest mistake ever

UNHCR says it has realized in recent months that for the past decade, it has followed a misguided strategy in dealing with the nearly five million refugees – almost a quarter of the population – it has helped return to Afghanistan since 2002.

Despite assistance in relocating and an initial cash grant, UNHCR says most returnees have failed to re-integrate because what they need is long-term development work.
“The needs of the returning population [are] beyond the humanitarian scope,” Suzanne Murray Jones, a senior adviser at UNHCR in Kabul, told IRIN.

In December, Peter Nicolaus, UNHCR representative in Afghanistan, called it “the biggest mistake UNHCR ever made… [  ] We thought if we gave humanitarian assistance then macro-development would kick in.”

UNHCR is now waking up to the reality that this never happened.

The Afghan government, dogged by corruption, lack of capacity and continued conflict, has been incapable of providing for returnees.

Billions of dollars in aid spent in Afghanistan over the last decades have not had the desired effect, in part because much of the aid has been driven by political and military goals, not humanitarian and developmental needs. And aid that has targeted the vulnerable has not been well-coordinated.

''[It was] the biggest mistake UNHCR ever made… We thought if we gave humanitarian assistance then macro-development would kick in''

“Everyone is working in their own silos. It has not been systematic. There hasn’t been an integrated approach by everybody,” Murray Jones said.

For too long, she said, aid workers failed to address important questions: “Where does humanitarian assistance stop and where does development aid begin? How do we bridge the gap?”

As a result of that gap, the population in Kabul has tripled in just seven years and the government’s land allocation scheme for returnees is so overwhelmed there are already tens of thousands of families on the waiting list for Nangarhar Province alone.

Nearly 60 percent of communities surveyed in a recent study by UNHCR and the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation said returnees lived in worse conditions than local communities.

Many of them live six families to a house “that is not meant for living in, or on highways and main roads, or even in deserts, beneath the mountains,” said Ghulam Haidar Faqirzai, DoRR director in Nangarhar Province, which borders Pakistan. Others, he said, live in illegal settlements.

Illegal settlements

Reza Gul lives in one of those settlements, atop a steep hill of winding dirt paths where men smoke opium in the open and dusty children run around in open sandals in the depths of winter. She lives without water or electricity in a home she does not own. UNHCR helped her build an extra room to her house, but her situation is fragile.

“If we are kicked out, we’ll have to live under a tent,” she told IRIN.

Since returning from Pakistan, she has had no intention of going back to her village of origin, despite her current living conditions. This settlement, Majbooraba, is in Jalalabad, a large city where her husband can find work.

Asked what it would take for her to go back, she offered a long list:

“If we are provided with land, employment, water and work for my husband – that’s all I’d need.”

Stories like these have forced UNHCR to reconsider its approach to returnees.

Photo: Heba Aly/IRIN
Farmers in Saracha village have been given improved seeds and trained in agricultural techniques

New approach

Saracha, a vast agricultural village 10km outside Jalalabad, was on the frontline of the war between the Soviets and Afghan rebels in the 1980s. Just minutes from the airport that served as the Russian base, it was often hit by rockets.

Most of the population fled to Pakistan in the 1980s and again during the civil war of the 1990s. It was not until 2004 and afterwards that they returned en masse to find damaged irrigation canals, collapsed homes and landmines in their village. Children walked to Jalalabad city for school and had to travel to Pakistan for any serious health issues.

The conditions in Saracha were ripe for poverty, disillusionment, secondary displacement or recruitment to militant groups. But the villagers got together, elected a leader and started rehabilitating their communities. Then they contacted aid agencies for help.

In 2011, UNHCR began a pilot project in the village that aimed at focusing comprehensive development assistance in areas of high refugee returns.

At a cost of US$1.4 million, development partners have helped the village build a micro hydro plant; an irrigation system; and a waste water canal. They have also provided agricultural training, promoted honey and vegetable production, offered literacy and computer classes, and provided poultry as an income-generating mechanism to vulnerable families.

“Before there would be one project here, one project there. But under this programme, it’s a package,” said Golam Nasseer, head of one of the sub-villages that make up Saracha. “Our village has been rebuilt. Now, it’s like Paris,” he joked.

The idea of the project is to pool resources, including those that already exist in the country, and direct them towards communities where refugees are returning en masse. UNHCR will highlight the areas that need investment; and ask development partners to focus their energies there.

The model will be presented at an international stakeholder conference in Switzerland in May. It hopes to replicate it in 48 areas of high return across Afghanistan.

“Once we complete [work] in [one] village, we move on to another,” explained Eamal, the UNHCR programme associate.


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Automated inventory systems to improve relief distribution

Posted by African Press International on March 6, 2012

PHILIPPINES: Aid management goes automated

Aid was still being processed for one disaster, Tropical Storm Washi, when the next hit

MANILA,  – The Philippines government and an international aid agency are automating inventory systems to improve relief distribution in one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) are undertaking a US$46,000 customization of an open-source software commonly used in disaster relief, Sahana, to develop a national relief goods inventory and monitoring system, or RGIMS.

Sahana, developed in Sri Lanka after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, was most recently used during the 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami in Japan, 2010 flooding in Pakistan and 2010 earthquake in Haiti, to name a few.

RGIMS covers inventory and warehousing, tracking and monitoring, and reporting and evaluation.

“We want [DSWD] managers to know what relief goods are in stock in real time,” said Dragoslav Djuraskovic, WFP head of logistics in the Philippines.

In 2011, the National Resource Operations Centre (NROC) in the capital Manila – where all donations are handled – received, inventoried and re-packed an unknown quantity of goods.

“Everything that comes into our warehouse has to be encoded and sorted. Currently, we use Excel spreadsheets for all of this data. It’s so tedious and the mere volume of the data makes the process prone to errors,” said Ronald Reonal, 26, an administrative assistant at NROC.


On 6 February this year, an earthquake hit the southern province of Negros Occidental, leaving dozens dead, at least 70 missing and more than 32,000 displaced in 21 evacuation centres, according to the government’s national disaster risk reduction and management council (NDRRMC) on 10 February

Only two months earlier, Tropical Storm Washi swept through the southern island of Mindanao, affecting more than one million people.

DSWD officials told IRIN that in the midst of processing Washi donations, they have had to handle aid for earthquake survivors.

In 2011, the Philippines had 21 natural disasters affecting some seven million people and resulting almost 400 registered deaths, according to the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

The same year, international donors pledged or sent US$31.4 million – which does not include $10.4 million for Tropical Storm Washi, which hit on 17 December.


“There will be no getting away from the manual counting and sorting of relief goods and donations,” said Francia Fabian, NROC supervising administrative officer. “But RGIMS will at least make the process more efficient and our reporting more accurate.”

Donors and authorized staff will be able to see, real-time, as supplies dwindle.

“There will be a threshold warning system that will alert the user on inventory that is running low, moderate and out of stock or about to expire,” said George Pornaras, WFP’s IT consultant for RGIMS.

At present, all DSWD officers call NROC for stock levels, which is faxed or emailed as an Excel file.

Pornaras said there were plans to set up internet-ready field offices with extra servers to ensure the system can function during an emergency.

According to Sahana’s website, there are both on-line and stand-alone functions that do not require internet access.

RGIMS will be initially tested in five DSWD offices by March and is expected to be rolled out to 19 more offices nationwide by August 2012.


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Timor-Leste: More children are surviving, but most MDGs still far from being met

Posted by African Press International on March 6, 2012

TIMOR-LESTE: Falling short on MDGs*

More children are surviving, but most MDGs still far from being met

BANGKOK,  – The Southeast Asian half-island nation of Timor-Leste is falling short on most Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), experts warn.

“The areas that remain challenging or off-track compared to the 2015 targets include poverty, underweight children, maternal mortality and sanitation,” Felix Piedade, the national adviser of Timor Leste’s MDG Secretariat, told IRIN.

Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia to become one of the world’s youngest nations in 2002 after a 25-year civil war. Six years of instability followed.

Due to Timor-Leste’s recent violence, which included attacks on the president and prime minister in 2008  and a military uprising in 2006, the UN chose it as one of nine countries worldwide to receive extra support in meeting the MDGs.

While Goal 1 includes halving the proportion of people living on less than US$1 a day, in Timor-Leste that population actually grew from 36 percent in 2001 to 50 percent in 2007, according to Piedade.

As of 2009, the rate dropped to 41 percent, still not close to meeting the goal of 14 percent set in 2004.

But there have been some improvements.

“Timor-Leste has surpassed the MDG target for 2015 for both under-five mortality rate [96/1,000 live births] and infant mortality rate [53/1,000 live births] based on targets set in 2004,” Piedade said.

The country is on track for only two of the other eight MDGs: achieving universal primary education, and promoting gender equality and empowering women, according to the UN Development Programme.


But measuring progress can be tricky.

“When you talk about gender here, there are different indicators,” said Silvia Cormaci, a gender expert in Timor-Leste.

Cormaci noted advances have been made in improving the political participation of women, who now comprise 29 percent of parliamentarians – among the highest proportion in Asia.

A new law has been passed requiring that one in three candidates in the June-July 2012 parliamentary election must be a woman.

“But 70 percent of women work in unpaid work in agriculture. And there’s big issues on domestic violence, one of the highest rates in Asia,” said Cormaci.

Nationally, 38 percent of women aged 15-49 reported experiencing violence since age 15, according to the government’s most recent demographic health survey

Thirty-six percent of the women who were, or had been, married reported violence – physical, sexual, or emotional – by a husband or partner.

Widespread rape and sexual assault of women and children went largely unpunished during the military occupation.

Domestic violence has technically been a crime since 2009 under the penal code, but it was not until 2010 that a law clearly defined the crime and mandated victim support services.

“A lot of work has been done to train police on the law,” Cormaci added. “The problem is that many people still turn to traditional justice as a means of settling their disputes. So you have [a] good domestic violence law there, but implementation is much harder.”

ms/pt/cb source

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