Cash-for-work schemes build a road to resilience for Afghans

March 23, 2022

Displaced by conflict, 35-year-old Jailan has been out of work these last few weeks. Like most people in Afghanistan, he is struggling to earn a living as a consequence of the grim reality of the country’s failing economy, infrastructure, and services.

Conflict in Afghanistan has left 3.4 million displaced. The country is going through challenging times following the sudden collapse of the previous government and civil authorities, changing dynamics in the country’s international relations and loss of development support, as well as sanctions and liquidity issues facing its financial and banking system.

For Jailan and others like him, the predicament facing his homeland leaves few places to turn to for aid, with only a precarious outlook ahead. It is estimated that 97 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million people are at risk of sinking into absolute poverty by mid-2022. Half of all children under five in the country are already severely malnourished.

Jailan has spent his only savings of US$40 on medical treatment for his daughter.

Photo: UNHCR/Naik Mohammad Azamy

In response to the dire situation facing Afghans, the UN team in Afghanistan launched a One-UN Transitional Engagement Framework (TEF) to coordinate efforts across the country to reduce suffering, save lives, and sustain essential services. This includes joint work between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The TEF and the UN’s inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan will require US$8 billion in 2022. This includes US$4.4 billion for critical humanitarian needs - the largest humanitarian request ever for a single country. Emergency needs include life-saving support in shelter, food security and health care, protecting livelihoods of people, as well as protection for the most vulnerable. That plan will deliver lifesaving assistance to 22.1 million people.

The additional US$3.6 billion needed under the TEF will help sustain essential social services such as health and education, as well as supporting community systems and services for livelihoods and social cohesion.

“It is vital that health and education and essential community systems are preserved right now. Afghan communities are being hit on multiple fronts. We need to stay and deliver,” said Abdallah Al Dardari, Resident Representative for UNDP in Afghanistan.

UNHCR and UNDP are working together in Afghanistan as part of the UN’s overall response in, and as partners dedicated to, boosting the work of the Support Platform for Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) to address the needs of refugee returnees, displaced people, and host communities.

“We all know that humanitarian assistance alone is not going to be sufficient to ensure that basic services work in a sustainable way inside Afghanistan. Bringing vital stability to communities is also going to be needed for us to solve issues like internal displacement and support other returnees,” says Caroline van Buren, UNHCR’s Representative in Kabul.

The UNHCR-UNDP humanitarian-development approach has worked well in the past, creating the possibility for the sustainable return of refugees from Pakistan and Iran to specific parts of the country with high levels of need. These Priority Areas of Return and Reintegration (PARRs) have served as a model for the current approach in Afghanistan to develop options for supporting the return and reintegration of internally displaced people.

Essentially, the PARRs and the UNDPs’ Area-based Approach for Development Emergency Initiatives (ABADEI) seek to improve a community’s access to essential services and protect, promote, and preserve livelihoods to help stabilize them and prevent further displacement.

“This is a joint response, critical to protect people’s lives and to meet their immediate needs,” Ms Van Buren said. “It reflects our collective efforts to build the resilience of displaced and vulnerable people.”

Activities also include working with the communities to rehabilitate common facilities and helping small enterprises, particularly women-led businesses. Programmes like these are expanding now. 

Among the short-term employment opportunities offered by the UNHCR-UNDP projects are cash-for-work road-building initiatives. Recently, this included the rehabilitation of a 15-kilometre stretch of road in Kahdistan, Injil. The cash-for-work project offered income to 560 returnees, displaced people, and host communities. In total, it injected over US$50,000 into the local community’s economy.

Photo: UNHCR/Naik Mohammad Azamy

Most of the residents in Kahidstan are daily wage labourers.

“Our people were desperate. They had been unemployed for a long time,” said Arbab Mola Fakhradi, a local community leader. “This work has also created a long-awaited main road connecting us to local markets.”

Mohammad Rafiq Niroomand, Director of Department of Refugees and Repatriations in Herat says: “This road rehabilitation has created an asset for the community and helped the most vulnerable people of the community earn an income during these difficult times.” 

Jailan, who used the last of his savings for his daughter’s medical care, was among the 560 cash-for-work participants this time. He welcomed the chance to earn money through the scheme. This helped me to meet the immediate needs of my family. I bought some necessary food items and firewood to keep my family safe and warm,” he said. 

Photo: UNHCR/Naik Mohammad Azamy

The project is continuing to develop and will soon introduce cash grants for the development of small businesses and to improve access to markets. It is clear from the current situation that without help to build resilience through livelihoods, millions of Afghans will struggle to survive.

Both UNHCR and UNDP are seeking in these initiatives to have a specific emphasis on women’s participation and empowerment.

“Through the provision of basic services and employment opportunities, we will continue to strive to support the development of stronger communities and better opportunities for all,” Mr Al Dardari said.

Notes: The joint work UNHCR-UNDP work in the Priority Areas of Return and Reintegration (PARRs) is part of UNHCR’s Community-based Protection and Solutions Programme Response (Co-PROSPER) which has focused primarily on supporting on refugee returns, and UNDP’s Area-based Approach for Development Emergency Initiatives (ABADEI). Both initiatives are aligned with the UN Afghanistan’s Transitional Engagement Framework (TEF) and Solutions Strategy for Afghans Refugees (SSAR).