Notes from the Field: Community Perspectives on Aid in Difficult-To-Access Areas

Will Carter     Aug 2015

I would have probably been killed in this village of Panjwayi District (Kandahar Province) three years earlier, when I was posted with a humanitarian NGO to Kandahar.  Opposition commanders and informal sharia courts, amidst this main battlefield and IED-heavy area, would have been quick to apprehend me and my notebook, and probably worse.  Fortunately, times have changed.  Although the conflict smoulders in other parts of the province, we can drive to this village now without too much trouble, and spend time with communities.

In Afghanistan, we’ve recently finished the data collection phase of our research, consulting affected populations and aid organisations in six of the most insecure and least accessible provinces, primarily in the South and East of the country: Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Khost, Paktika, and Kunar.  We asked communities a range of questions including: who has been providing them with aid, and how has it changed over the years?  Is it dangerous for aid organisations to work here? Is it dangerous for people to receive aid? Is the system working, is it getting to who needs it the most, or does the aid get diverted?  Altogether, we’re trying to gauge the quality of aid in difficult-to-access areas, and learn from it—how can the humanitarian community do better, despite the challenges?

“Support comes to the district, but it doesn’t reach us here,” one community member in rural Panjwayi District tells me. “Here, in the past few years, we’ve only had vaccinations, and sometimes a small [community development] project like cleaning the canal … but they don’t employ people in our community for that.  They come from someone else’s family in the district centre.”

Panjwayi has historically seen some of the highest levels of violence and destruction throughout the US-led coalition intervention. “We don’t have a clinic, or a school, or anything else.”  The elders point out that it is secure again in this area: “Look, even the policeman can walk around by himself here now.  It’s safe! We don’t understand why organisations are not working here.”  Re-entering areas which were very dangerous in the past has been a thorny and complicated issue for aid organisations—particularly when there are ‘lower hanging fruits’ in safer climes in the country.

Over the past few months, SAVE has partnered with two local research organisations: the Peace Training & Research Organisation (PTRO) and the Organisation for Research & Community Development (ORCD) to conduct field research in difficult-to-access districts around Afghanistan for SAVE Component 2, about what enables ‘access’ and how that affects aid quality.  I have worked centrally with the organisations in Kabul, and also in the field—in Khost and Kandahar.  The data, and experience, have been rich—and I’m thankful for the dedication of our in-country partners.  We look forward to sharing the results, and helping inform humanitarian access initiatives in Afghanistan and in the other insecure countries that we work.