Afghanistan is one of the most impoverished countries on earth, ranking number 172 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Index. Facing ongoing conflict and frequent man-made and natural disasters, with a limited ability to respond, Afghanistan has a dire need for support and aid from the international community.
For this priority, Canada’s 2011 objective was to support the provision of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people, including Afghan refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons in Kandahar and nationwide.
Working with its international partners, Canada’s support for humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan focused on four areas.
First, Canada sought to eradicate polio at a national level—one of three signature projects in Afghanistan.
Second, we focused on measures to promote access to basic health services, with a particular emphasis on vulnerable populations—women, children, persons with disabilities, returnees and internally displaced persons.
Third, to limit the devastating effects of land mines and unexploded ordnance, Canada made a major contribution to mine action in Afghanistan, through the clearing of land and the provision of widespread mine awareness education.
Fourth, Canada supported a number of efforts by humanitarian actors to provide humanitarian relief for Afghans in times of dire need, for example, the provision of emergency food and temporary shelter materials for victims of natural disasters.
In 2008, Afghanistan was one of just four countries where polio was considered endemic. As a consequence, Canada’s project to eradicate this terrible disease sought to vaccinate more than seven million children under the age of five.
Canada achieved considerable success in helping to eradicate the disease through its partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. These achievements were made despite difficult and often dangerous security situations and the ongoing challenge of reaching children, especially those living in more rural and remote regions of the country.
The battle against polio required the efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers. As but one example, a single immunization campaign in 2011 involved more than 20,000 people, including approximately 250 district coordinators, 1,500 cluster supervisors, 17,200 volunteer vaccinators, 260 monitors, and more than 1,900 community mobilizers (often religious leaders, teachers and community health workers). Creative new strategies are also being developed and implemented to ensure the widest possible reach of immunization campaigns. For example, efforts were made to reach children outside of their homes through the use of roaming vaccination teams at check posts, bus stations and markets.
The continuous movement of Afghan and Pakistani children across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was a further obstacle to eradicating the disease. To address this, transit vaccination teams were established to vaccinate children coming from or going to Pakistan. In addition, cross-border meetings on polio eradication were held between the Afghan and Pakistani polio eradication teams, to share information on methods of improving campaign quality and initiate joint planning between the two countries.
Overall, Canada continues to facilitate the vaccination of more than seven million children across the country through regular polio immunization campaigns. The number of new reported cases of polio dropped from 38 in 2009 to 25 in 2010 and these cases were largely confined to Afghanistan’s southern regions. Disappointingly, however, due to a number of factors, including greater population awareness of the signs and symptoms of polio and improved surveillance systems, the number of reported polio cases has increased in 2011, with a total of 80 new cases.
The governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan have expressed their commitment to eradicating polio within their respective countries. Canada continues to support these efforts within Afghanistan by providing grants to the WHO and UNICEF to support the Polio Eradication Initiative. Activities supported by Canada include vaccine procurement, vaccination campaigns, technical assistance and surveillance.
Canada worked with the Afghan government to expand health services for the Afghan population (pregnant women, mothers, and children in particular) in the southern region of the country, where health care is inadequate, especially in Kandahar province. Working with various partners, we provided critical health services (such as health advice, emergency treatment, follow-up care) to reduce maternal and child mortality. We also supported operations of a hospital, basic health centres, physical rehabilitation centres, and a maternal waiting home.
The availability of essential, quality health services and their accessibility to vulnerable populations were also improved. Canada has provided support to help train over 2,000 health care workers in Kandahar, including doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers. Canada’s target for 2011 was to train 500 health workers.
In addition, Canada has made significant contributions to improving the nutritional status of pregnant women and children under the age of five. For example, the Emergency Nutrition project in Afghanistan, implemented by the Micronutrient Initiative and funded by Canada, sought to reduce nutritional deficiencies among these groups. More than 230,000 children under the age of five received 60 packets each of multiple micronutrient powders. To reduce maternal mortality, complications during pregnancy and birth defects, close to 128,000 pregnant or lactating women received iron and folic acid supplements for 180 days.
Canada supported measures to stem the ongoing prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) in Afghanistan. By supporting the National Tuberculosis Control Programme, Canada strengthened the Afghan Ministry of Public Health’s capacity to provide TB treatment services, especially in Kandahar. The first ever cross border TB control meeting between Afghanistan and Pakistan was organized, and women’s workshops were also held in communities to increase awareness of TB prevention and control.
Canada also provided funding to deploy a technical adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, to provide on site mentoring and strategic advice on prioritizing, planning and managing essential health services. Canada continued to assist the Ministry of Public Health to improve access to medicines by putting in place quality control mechanisms across the supply and distribution chain.
Approximately 85 percent of Afghanistan’s people now have access to basic health services, as compared to less than ten per cent of the population under the Taliban.
Canada will continue to support Afghanistan’s efforts to strengthen its health system as part of our 2011–2014 engagement. We will support polio eradication initiatives and other projects to increase the availability of and accessibility to quality health services for the population. The primary focus of Canada’s development efforts in the health sector will be on mothers, newborns, and children under five years of age, as part of the Canadian-led G8 2010 Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Under-five Child Health. Therefore, major challenges such as inadequate health care systems, the burden of diseases and illnesses, and malnutrition will be addressed.
The presence of land mines has significant consequences for Afghanistan, from the horrific injuries these mines can cause to the economic consequences of so much land being inaccessible for agricultural production.
Through its support to the Mine Action Program of Afghanistan, Canada’s mine action measures far surpassed the targets established in 2008. By the end of September 2011, over 772 square kilometres of land were cleared of mines, well beyond the established target of 500 square kilometres. In addition, Canadian-supported mine risk education was provided to over 650,000 people, surpassing the target of 200,000. Thanks in part to Canada’s support, mine risk education is now taught by 16,000 trained teachers throughout Afghanistan.
The impact of efforts in mine action between 2008 and 2011 cannot be overstated; the number of land mine victims has dropped considerably and the removal of mines and unexploded ordnance releases land to be once again cultivated for agricultural use. The Mine Action Program of Afghanistan also includes community-based demining projects designed by Afghan partners in close collaboration with community shuras and Community Development Councils (CDCs). Apart from the important work of mine clearing, these projects provide an economic boost to small rural communities through the provision of wages and by enabling the land to be developed once it is cleared.
Through its international and national partners, Canada provided substantial humanitarian relief to the Afghan people in times of their greatest need.
Natural disasters that occur in the midst of conflict, for example, often lead to acute humanitarian crises, and pose an even greater threat to human security. In Afghanistan, such disasters unfortunately occur frequently and with devastating effects.
When areas of Kandahar province and Jawzjan province experienced severe flooding and avalanches between the spring of 2010 and the summer of 2011, Canada provided support to humanitarian partners such as CARE Canada to distribute emergency kits—including blankets, plastic sheets, kitchenware sets and other non-food items—to assist the most vulnerable families in the affected regions.
Canada has also supported UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and Afghan authorities in relief efforts following numerous earthquakes in Afghanistan over the 2008–2011 period. Emergency shelter, food, water and health services were often provided to those affected.
In 2011, torrential rains triggered flash flooding again in central, eastern and southern Afghanistan, affecting 16 provinces and as many as 200,000 people. The Government of Afghanistan also felt increasing pressure to provide for the large number of Afghans returning home from areas devastated by flooding in neighbouring Pakistan. Canada provided disaster response funding through the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), among other agencies.
With respect to food assistance, through a partnership with the WFP, Canada surpassed its target to support the delivery of food assistance to Afghans in need.
Afghanistan, however, is now facing a serious drought, and more than 2.4 million people are estimated to be highly food-insecure in 14 drought-affected provinces in northern and central regions. The WFP is closely coordinating with the Afghan government and NGOs to provide drought assistance, including Canadian contributions to food rations for some 1.2 million drought-affected people.
Canadian funding also supported a number of other WFP initiatives, including the Purchase for Progress project to buy wheat from small-scale farmers for distribution elsewhere in the country; Food for Training to assist some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people with acquiring marketable skills development; and Food for Work and Food for Assets programs to assist impoverished Afghans with meeting their food needs as they build or repair community assets.
Canada also supported the operations of the ICRC in providing financial and technical assistance to build the capacity of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, whose 17,000 volunteers across Afghanistan, especially in southern Afghanistan, are well trained to respond to people’s needs. The extensive local volunteer network of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, active in all provinces of Afghanistan, is able to reach a large number of conflict-affected people in remote and inaccessible areas across Afghanistan.
To assist the reintegration of returnees and internally displaced persons, Canada has supported the humanitarian operations in Afghanistan of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. For example, Canada’s support in 2010 assisted UNHCR in providing cash grants to over 118,000 Afghan refugees and 3,400 internally displaced persons to facilitate their initial reintegration. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also constructed some 17,000 shelters for vulnerable returnee families and delivered more than 80 income generation and water projects to help over 138,000 beneficiaries in need.
Canada continues to work with the Afghan government, UN partners and local non-governmental organizations to ensure Afghan communities and agencies are able to respond effectively in mitigating the impact of conflict, natural disasters and ill health. Recognizing the continuing needs of Afghans, Canada will continue to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance through its new engagement in Afghanistan.