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Addressing critical needs of Afghans: New Study Recommends Strategies for Principled Action

New study brings forward concrete recommendations on how to improve principled humanitarian action in Afghanistan.

Bashuro and her family, Takhta Pul district of Kandahar, village affected by the floods in June 2022 Credit: Kern Hendricks

Posted on 09 Jun 2023

Afghanistan remains one of the most complex environments for aid operations today, and humanitarian actors face various challenges. Despite the difficulties, the international community cannot ignore the deepening crisis: with 28.8 million people in need as of June 2023, Afghanistan is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  

To help aid organizations, donor agencies, and donor governments reflect on these challenges, a new study titled “Principled Humanitarian Action in Afghanistan” has been released. Facilitated by DRC, the study has been conducted by independent researchers with funding from DG ECHO. 

Building on the analysis of data collected through interviews with over 170 aid actors, donors, affected people and the de facto authorities in Kabul and four provinces across Afghanistan, the study explores how aid actors navigate complex dilemmas faced on the ground, and how humanitarian principles and other values factor into operational decision-making and coordinated action. The research provides an opportunity to jointly reflect on best practices, and what needs to be done to enable principled programming, while urgently calling for increased support and collective action to address the crisis. 

Aid actors have few good options in Afghanistan. But that, to some degree, is the nature of humanitarian work, and the dilemmas faced are not new nor unique to Afghanistan. Based on the findings from the research, the report examines five broad, interconnected operational challenges, the dilemmas that arise from them, and aid actors' decisions, collectively and individually, in response. 

The identified dilemmas include: 

  1. Programmatic and operational interference 
  2. Gender-related restrictions
  3. Donor restrictions and policies 
  4. Engagement with authorities 
  5. Insecurity 
Charlotte Slente, Secretary General, DRC Danish Refugee Council

“The report highlights the importance of strengthening understanding and respect for humanitarian principles, improving analysis capabilities, and encourage strategic and operational engagement to guide principled action in Afghanistan”

/  Charlotte Slente, Secretary General, DRC Danish Refugee Council

The study presents a roadmap to enable principled programming within the existing constraints, and outlines five key areas for collective action: 

Recommendation 1:  

Strengthen understanding of and respect for the humanitarian principles: Much has already been done, but donors and aid agency senior managers should prioritize training, capacity building and mentoring on humanitarian principles and dialogue, particularly for frontline aid workers.  

Recommendation 2:  

Improve analysis: strengthen security analysis as well as that regarding political context and engagement, while finding opportunities to compare and engage in critical debate with other actors and across sectors. 

Recommendation 3:  

Strengthen strategic and operational engagement: evidence on needs, rather than donor constraints or political considerations, must guide engagement with the de facto authorities.  Aid leadership, supported by donors, must urgently create, resource, and implement a proactive humanitarian engagement strategy and action plan to improve relations with the de facto authorities at the national and local levels.  

Recommendation 4:  

Address harmful practices and protect vulnerable people: Improving accountability, specifically accountability to Afghans, is an urgent priority. An ombudsman function should be created to serve the humanitarian community and ensure frontline workers have somewhere to turn with the immense challenges and ethical concerns they face. 

Recommendation 5:  

Shape the narrative: A joint effort to reshape the global narrative on Afghanistan can create more space for principled engagement with clearer, evidence-based narratives which highlight the drivers of the crisis, and the role of political engagement in addressing the drivers.  

By embracing these recommendations, the aid community in Afghanistan, donor agencies and donor countries can support improvements in principled humanitarian programming that continues to address the immense needs in Afghanistan. The study calls for decisive action and continued engagement in tackling the crisis. 

Principled Humanitarian Action in Afghanistan Briefing Note May 2023

Principled Humanitarian Action in Afghanistan Briefing note May 2023

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 Gerry Garvey, Executive Director Asia & Europe, DRC Danish Refugee Council

“Afghanistan is one of the most challenging environments for aid operations today. Despite the difficulties, the world cannot ignore the deepening crisis, and much can still be done to support principled programming. Promoting principled programming in complex environments for aid operations today is at the forefront of DRC’s agenda. After facilitating a similar initiative in Yemen, we are pleased to have contributed to the study “Principled Humanitarian Action in Afghanistan” and will continue to push for the study’s recommendations to be considered at all levels”

/   Gerry Garvey, Executive Director Asia & Europe, DRC Danish Refugee Council

For more information or media inquiries, please contact:   

[email protected]  or +45 2811 6727 

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