The Afghanistan Resilience Consortium (ARC) is a joint project between Afghanaid, ActionAid, Concern Worldwide, Save the Children, and the United Nations Environment Programme. Working in some of Afghanistan's most remote communities, the consortium adopts a multidimensional approach to tackling the effects of climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradation, whilst also strengthening the ability of rural Afghans to earn an income and take ownership of protecting their local environment.

Why is the Afghanistan Resilience Consortium needed?

Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries and is highly prone to natural disasters. It is also the eighth most vulnerable country in the world to the effects of climate change, and with increasing incidents of climate change-related disasters, communities are in dire need of support to overcome the challenges posed by the climate crisis. In addition to this, approximately 80% of the population relies on agriculture and livestock for survival, making it imperative to protect arable land, improve water systems and implement disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs across the country. 

As Guru Naik, ARC Manager and Deputy Director at Afghanaid, highlighted:

It is beyond the capacity of countries like Afghanistan to cope with the impacts of climate change on their own, yet the long-term challenges the climate crisis poses for Afghan communities are life-threatening.

Each province is facing unique challenges, but across the nation, natural disasters are undoubtedly taking their toll. With extreme droughts increasing in severity and frequency, rising temperatures and low precipitation rates have led to Afghanistan’s soil becoming extremely degraded, in turn increasing the likelihood of flash floods and hampering families’ ability to grow food and earn an income off the land. 

The ARC recognises the pressing need to work proactively with vulnerable rural communities, increasing their awareness levels to ensure they are better placed to mitigate the effects of, and prepare for, natural disasters, and to strengthen and diversify their livelihoods. 

What are some of the activities included in the Afghanistan Resilience Consortium’s work?

Some of the essential activities implemented by the ARC include:

  • Tree-planting: this supports soil revitalisation, and helps to reduce the devastation of flash floods. The canopy cover offered by trees helps reduce the speed at which rainfall hits the ground, and their root systems help water penetrate deeper into the soil, resulting in less surface run-off and so slowing floodwater. Under ARC's activities, more than 600,000 trees have been planted in Afghanistan, more than half of which were fruit trees, which provides a new source of nutritious food for families whilst restoring once degraded land.
  • Implementing early warning systems: by implementing mechanisms within communities that alert them when a natural disaster is forecasted, we can reduce the damage a disaster creates by up to 30%, if activated 24 hours before the event. This means homes, livestock and lives can be saved.
  • Irrigation and watershed management: the Hindu Kush mountains once provided farmers abundant amounts of water to support their agriculture, but reduced snowmelt and low precipitation has meant agricultural workers do not have enough water to sustain their livelihoods. Increasing groundwater and building reservoirs, flood protection structures and water systems helps communities increase soil moisture, and also decrease the risks of flash flooding.
  • Diversifying rural livelihoods: to help families become more able to recover from climatic and economic shocks, the ARC provides skills training and resources that help reduce sole-dependency on farmland, meaning that when disasters happen, families have more options.

Harnessing community resilience

The ARC was first launched in 2015. The aim of the consortium's first project was to help project participants in nine districts learn how to preventatively prepare their landscapes for natural disasters to minimise their impact, whilst also providing work for men and women.

Driven by the growing need for this kind of programming, in 2018, the ARC launched its flagship Community Based Eco-DRR (CBED) project in six disaster-prone provinces across Afghanistan. From 2018-2022, this project assisted 245 communities to restore local ecosystems, conserve soil-water and adapt to the changing climate, aiming to not only reduced the risks of flash floods in numerous areas, but also help communities to become more resilient to increasingly frequent drought conditions, vital measures in the natural disaster-prone mountainous regions of Afghanistan. 

Through trench excavations, terrace constructions, gully plugs, flood mitigation structures, retention structures, and irrigation canal construction in 185 communities, the ARC has helped to protect the livelihoods of 27,402 families whose ability to earn an income and put food on the table was considerably threatened by drought and floods.

Muhammad Ali, head of his Community-Based Disaster Management Committee, spoke to us about how an increasing number of floods have affected his community’s access to nearby community infrastructure:

Prior to the construction of the protection wall by the CBED project, there was no access to the community public road during the summer season for a period of four months every year as result of increased water in the Amu River. To address this challenge, a protection wall was constructed beside the road enabling the community to use and benefit from the road the whole year.

Structures like gully plugs and retention walls help protect communities by reinforcing the soil and slowing down flood waters. With the reduced effects of the floods on public roads, the ARC was able to help 171 communities have better access to basic community services, including 130,303 people supported to access markets and hospitals and 31,216 children supported to access schools. 

Another key goal of the ARC is not just to implement these transformative adaptation measures, but to employ local people along the way, providing families with a much-needed income whilst increasing local skills and ownership over adaptation initiatives. For example, under one set of activities, 1,200 women received cash-for-work through learning to weave gabion nets, which were then used to build flood defence structures. Additionally, during the Covid pandemic, a time in which there were very few safe employment opportunities for Afghan people, the ARC was able to employ with 22,312 underemployed men, resulting in the construction of a greater number of flood protection infrastructure that originally projected.

Gulam Muhammad, a small landholder in Khairabad target village, reflected on the positive impact activities in his area have had on his livelihood. “Prior to implementing terraces on my small farm, I was harvesting 700 kg of wheat annually.” Gulam told us.

After the CBED project constructed bench terraces on my land and converted the sloping areas into flat agricultural land, I have been able to preserve rainwater, and during 2020 I harvested 1,100kg of wheat, which is a 32% increase in my annual harvesting. This has hugely supported my family's livelihood and food security.

An ongoing battle against the climate crisis

Following the huge successes of the first CBED project, the ARC launched upon CBED-II in 2022, aiming to provide even greater support to vulnerable rural communities following the coronavirus pandemic and the humanitarian and economic crisis that has gripped Afghanistan since 2021. Currently, thousands of vulnerable households are being supported to increase the production and quality of their agricultural produce, and diversify of on- and off-farm products in environmentally friendly ways, strengthening their food security and helping them to better recover from climatic and economic shocks. Community members are also mobilised to join Community-Based Disaster Management Committees, whilst learning skills and gaining awareness of climate adaptation measures. 

    Learn how CBED-II has helped Gulsum keep her family safe, whilst also promoting sustainable land management:

    Read Gulsum's Story

    How you can help

    Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and is facing climate change consequences they did not contribute to. We can not forget about countries like Afghanistan, leaving them to tackle climate change induced natural disasters on their own. The ARC is here to ensure these communities have a fair chance, but we can’t do that without you.

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