Vulnerability and Risk Assessment in Afghanistan

The Oxfam team in Afghanistan implemented a Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) in five villages to develop strategies to cope with natural hazards and ensure sustainable livelihoods. Walizada, the Oxfam Afghanistan Economic Justice Programme Lead, talks about the outcomes of the VRA in Afghanistan.

In October 2013, we conducted the VRA in the Badakhshan province in Afghanistan. The area is very mountainous and prone to disaster, like land slide, earthquake, drought and seasonal flash floods. The major livelihood activities are rain-fed agriculture, animal husbandry and daily labour work and access to markets and basic services is limited. Over 70% of the population are categorised as poor and very poor and the province is considered the worst province in Afghanistan in terms of food security. Women’s economic activities are limited to the household level. Men dominate outdoor economic and social activities and women have less control over resources and decision making processes. Security is another major challenge in this province that has a negative impact on livelihoods of the people in terms of business development and mobility.

In order to develop strategies to cope with the hazards in the province, we conducted a Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) in five villages that we identified as representative for the livelihood zone. The VRA assesses how much certain social groups and livelihood activities are affected by specific hazards. It also develops impact chains of the most relevant hazards and identifies possible interventions.

The expert group conducting the VRA in Afghanistan included the Head and Members of the Community Development Council, food security experts, representatives of UNFAO, Afghanistan National Disaster Management Committee and the Department of Agriculture and Metrology, as well as Oxfam staff. The members of the expert group were selected based on their long lasting experience working with the communities on food insecurity and natural hazards.

As the first step of the VRA, we conducted the Pre–Vulnerability Assessment. During the discussions with target villagers we identified common hazards and analysed the impact of these hazards on different livelihoods. These are the main hazards we identified:

  • Drought: rain-fed agriculture and animal husbandry have been severely affected by periodical drought in recent years, which led to harvest lost, fodder shortage, a decrease in livestock price and a shortage of drinking and irrigated water.
  • Flood: Seasonal floods affect people by destroying agriculture land and causing soil erosion, loss of productive assets and limited access to markets.
  • Insecurity: An unstable security situation affects people’s livelihoods, mobility, access to market; it results in increased food prices, limiting the social and economic participation of women, violence against people, loss of lives and migration.
  • Harsh winter: during harsh winters the access to markets is limited and for many regions none existing (since roads are blocked by snow). This leads to higher prices, higher health risks, limited mobility, unemployment and loss of livestock.
  • Animal and Crop Diseases: because of cereal diseases the yield decreased. Epidemic livestock diseases caused loss of livestock and  animal products . As result food security decreased.

We then moved on to identifying groups and livelihoods activities, such as cereal farmers, livestock farmers, mixed group cereal and livestock, labour workers and a resource less and dependent group (e.g. widows, women headed households, disabled and old men headed households).

 

In a Pre-Vulnerability Assessment Matrix assessed how the identified groups and livelihood activities were affected by the identified hazards. In the table below we assigned values for the level of sensitivity and exposure of the groups to the hazards. High values stand for lower sensitivity and exposure and are coloured in green or yellow, while low values indicate high senstity and exposure and are coloured in red and orange.

Since we identified ‘drought’as an important common hazard we developed an impact chain for drought. The impact chain showed that a drought would affect different livelihood activities (see model below). Building on past experiences, we concluded that a drought would make rain- fed farmers lose their harvest, livestock farmers lose their livestock and daily wage workers lose their share of cropping. A drought would decrease market labour opportunities and market wages which would increase the dependency of households with fewer resources on external assistance. Finally, poor households would start to use informal risk coping mechanisms that would not be sustainable in the long-run.

 

After having developed an impact chain for drought, we moved on to thinking about possible interventions. We discussed that it would be useful to increase the availability of the adapted and resistant wheat varieties. An idea was that institutionalising farmers groups could help to produce and maintain those resistant varieties. Furthermore the discussion made clear that it is important to increase  farmers’ knowledge about climate change and encourage them to use innovative agricultural methods for agriculture practices and pasture management. So far we Oxfam has already introduced certified resistant wheat seeds and water harvesting techniques like terracing and trenching the hilly land.

I think that the VRA is a useful tool. It has helped us to identify hazards and their impact on current and future livelihoods in the communities and to unpack issues through mathematic calculations. It was useful to brainstorm with the community, expert group and Oxfam and partner staff. I think that the VRA opens the window for humanitarian and development actors to design better programmes because it helps to identify the right approaches to address the needs of the livelihood groups taking into consideration the expected future trend of major hazards.

Written by Walizada, Oxfam Afghanistan Economic Justice Programme Lead.

Read more on the VRA in Myanmar and the Philippines

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