In a country like Afghanistan, where preventing militant attacks and fighting corruption are the top concerns, other issues, such as disaster risk reduction, are often put on the back burner.
Last week, flash floods in northern Baghlan province killed 80 people, destroyed more than 400 homes and damaged several road infrastructure in the worst natural disaster the area experienced in 50 years.
In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, as the Afghan government and international aid agencies scrambled to respond, these efforts were hampered by the remoteness of the area and lack of infrastructure.
This is a recurring problem in Baghlan and many parts of Afghanistan that regularly suffer different forms of natural disasters, where the tendency is to focus on response rather than putting in place mechanisms to mitigate the effects of these calamities.
Where does Afghanistan stand on disaster risk reduction and what has been done so far? Sure, there have been some (feeble) attempts by the government and nongovernmental organizations. For instance, local authorities has put up what Vivek C.K., project manager for community-based DRR at Concern Worldwide, dubbed “gabion walls” that help protect some communities against floods. But this is not enough. For example, the government has not yet introduced a standard building code that would make infrastructure around the country sturdy enough and won't be a hazard in the event of a disaster.
Kabul has a DRR plan in place, and there is a functioning interagency, multistakeholder DRR platform that tries to implement the Hyogo Framework for Action, a guideline governments and development actors around the world agreed to follow to mitigate the effects of natural disasters worldwide. But the Afghan government and many U.N. agencies and aid groups have not yet fully mainstreamed this in all of their development planning and projects, according to the Concern expert.
“Mainstreaming development planning has been widely talked about, but the results have been mixed,” she told Devex. “However, more international NGOs and U.N. agencies are giving increased attention to DRR and working it into their development plans, and the government of Afghanistan has and is taking measures to develop a comprehensive DRR strategy and plan.”
Raising DRR awareness among the population also remains a challenge for local government units. This is based on an evaluation survey Church World Service conducted over the past few weeks in several provinces in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority has been trying to secure funding for DRR-proofed infrastructure and equipment in the country, but "this has not really taken off yet," Nejabat Safi, CWS' associate director of disaster management program in Afghanistan, told Devex.
The government has a National Emergency Fund, but this is only for emergency relief.
This limited approach is what drives the neverending cycle in which the government and organizations struggle to delivering aid when a disaster strikes, and then spend millions in providing temporary relief. In the areas where Concern works, the organization’s DRR specialist explained that often the best option is relocation, as the locations are highly prone to floods and landslides. But then in order to do this, the government needs to mobilize significant resources.
CWS and ANDMA are planning a workshop in July involving various stakeholders to identify gaps in addressing disasters in Afghanistan. Safi hopes these gaps will help inform stakeholders at a planned development conference later this year, and drive more support for DRR work in the country.
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