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news | May 25, 2009 | Afghanistan | Emergency

Afghanistan: The challenge of beneficiary selection process

VFW work site in Qara Mullah Qurban village (Faryab).

Urgent Humanitarian Support to Vulnerable Households in Faryab and Baghlan Provinces of Afghanistan

During the winter months, most vulnerable families in northern Afghanistan suffer from an acute lack of food and fuel. In Baghlan and Faryab provinces, ACTED provided support to 4,233 beneficiaries through Cash for Work (CFW) activities and direct aid to the most vulnerable households with no men to directly participate in the works. The project took 5 months and was financed by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department.

The rural areas of Baghlan and Faryab, where the project took place, have so far received relatively little attention from the development community and the government. Especially in the project locations selected in Faryab, the poor and vulnerable have been forced to adapt drastic coping mechanisms to survive the winter. Examples are not hard to come by. In one of the targeted villages, Qarah Mullah Qurban, children were often seen sweeping dung and scraps of straw from the street to use as a fuel for cooking and heating, since the price of wood puts it out of reach of most Afghan families. Another family from Takhti Qeshlaq came to use animal fodder to bake bread, as it is cheaper then flour.

Widespread poverty in the areas as well as focus on vulnerable households in particular presented ACTED with a number of challenges. Since many vulnerable households do not have men able to participate in CFW activities, apart from 3,226 CFW beneficiaries, the project also provided 1,008 non-working beneficiaries with direct assistance. The selection of non-working beneficiaries presented a highly sensitive issue and direct involvement and approval from communities was essential to avoid community conflicts.

Beneficiary Selection Process

To that end, Beneficiary Selection Committees (BSC) were set up. They included members of Community Development Committees (CDC), village elders, ACTED staff and government officials. The selection process was based on the UNHCR criteria including households headed by women, the elderly and the disabled, which were selected as non-working beneficiaries, and families suffering from a lack of employment, large number of children and/or very low income. The ACTED staff then followed up on the selection process to ensure its fairness.

This methodology assured that lists of beneficiaries were accepted by the communities and helped prevent tensions and conflicts. In Welch Ali, a village in Baghlan Province, the starting date of the project had to be postponed when two villagers objected to the inclusion of people from a neighboring village in the CFW scheme. The conflict was solved through the involvement of the CDC and village elders, who convinced the men that people from another village indeed qualified for assistance. Another challenge the project faced, due to the wide-spread poverty in Faryab province, was the sheer number of beneficiaries who potentially qualified for assistance.

Can the extremely vulnerable work?

Out of those who did participate in CFW, some were as old as 85. This reflects a significant programmatic challenge for CFW projects targeting vulnerable families: the most vulnerable workers are not always best qualified to carry out the work. However, were they not participating in CFW, elderly headed households would be forced to find more extreme ways of securing income, such as begging. In Baghlan and Faryab elderly participated in the projects as both working and non-working beneficiaries, with the selection being led by community leaders and approved by all relevant parties.

At last, the inclusion of non-working beneficiaries in the project was handled well and thanks to close cooperation with communities, major conflicts were avoided. Still, one of the key lessons learnt from the project’s implementation and discussions with beneficiaries is that even the most vulnerable families can and should be involved in CFW activities. Suggestions included roles for elderly and disabled men as labour progress monitors or equipment stock keepers. Women can work preparing lunch for other CFW workers, in small scale food security or livelihood projects or even run childcare groups for younger mothers involved directly in CFW schemes.

The final obstacle ACTED had to face did not originate from Afghanistan – but from the fluctuating dollar exchange rate which impacted the project. This was offset by a reduction in the number of working days in Faryab. Thankfully, the rate fluctuations were combined with the decreased prices for food on local markets; thus the project was able to achieve what it has originally intended: all the participating families were left able to cover 50% of their food expenses for winter months.