Building Peace through Community Involvement
In Afghanistan, a UNDP programme helps communities come together in peace to develop and prosper.
In a remote, rugged province in eastern Afghanistan, the raging waters from the surrounding mountains have often flooded the 8000 homes that line the local river’s path. The river regularly ravaged the only means of income many of the community members had – their crops of wheat, corn, alfalfa and clover. But since Haji Abdu Rehman was locally elected as the District Development Assembly (DDA) chairman, that has all changed.
- NABDP – which works to ensure progress and development in Afghanistan – is a joint UNDP initiative implemented by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) and is in the third phase of implementation.
- The Programme’s total budget since 2002 is approximately US$ 521 million.
- Donors include Australia, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, UNHCR
- The programme has established DDAs in 388 districts through local election processes in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.
- 3,190 productive rural infrastructure projects have been completed, 451 projects are ongoing, 4,723 projects are planned, 218 projects are surveyed and 1,366 are in the design stage.
- 325 DDAs have been re-elected, enabling the participation nearly 6,120 men (69 percent) and 2,814 women (31 percent).
- 5.6 million individuals have been protected from floods and other natural disasters.
- 77 reintegration projects for ex-combatants have been completed benefiting approximately 798,000 individuals.
- 911 irrigation projects have been implemented in all 34 provinces benefiting nearly 532,000 individuals.
In 2004 – following his dream for peace and local development – Haji, a former insurgent, became the Chairman of the National Area-Based Development Programme’s (NABDP) District Development Assembly in the capital of the insecure province. The DDA, recognizing the community’s need, built a protection wall along the river’s edge, saving thousands of jeribs of fields and protecting 64,000 people from the repeated flooding of the river.
NABDP – a joint UNDP and Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development programme – has worked to help strengthen local development throughout rural Afghanistan by establishing DDAs in these areas. DDAs have been vitally important in providing communities with a voice, allowing them to play a role in decision-making that directly impacts their lives.
Since 2002, NABDP has focused on reducing poverty and improving livelihoods in rural areas across Afghanistan by promoting local governance – such as DDAs – and productive rural infrastructure – such as the protection wall – to promote long-term development.
In order to best help their community develop, Haji and the other DDA members have participated in NABDP’s capacity development trainings that focus upon good governance practices, project planning, gender equality and conflict resolution. To date, 334 out of 388 DDAs across Afghanistan have received training. DDAs are then able to effectively promote local participation in the selection process of key projects such as the protection wall. Community buy-in and participation help to promote peace, stability and ultimately development throughout the community. It is an approach that has been particularly effective in several insecure provinces such as Haji’s.
However, Haji, 52, hasn't always stood up for peace. In 1979 after the Soviet army invaded his remote Pashto community, they arrested his father. The then 19-year-old wasted no time in taking up arms and joining the mujahideen.
"I will never forget the day that the regime arrested and jailed him for no reason," Haji says about his father's capture during Soviet occupation. "From that very day, I joined the mujahideen groups to fight against the invading regime.” But after several long years, Haji realized that "Fighting never brought any positive changes to my life. I wanted my children to have a brighter future."
But problems in advancing education for children has been a challenge for Haji. ”When I first became the DDA Chairman, insurgents sent warning letters to our schools demanding closures, threatening to kill teachers and destroy the schools if they remain open," Haji says. "We immediately contacted the Taliban commander. After lengthy discussions, the commander agreed to order his men not to attack teachers and schools.”
After this experience, Haji and other assembly members developed shuras – an Arabic word for 'council' – to work with the local community, government members and tribal leaders to encourage children to attend school and to protect schools from further threats. DDA members have been able to establish a dialogue with anti-government Taliban members to ensure that the schools remain open, and the teachers and students safe.
Women's education is also high on Haji and the DDA's agenda. As a father of eight, he has ensured that all his sons and daughters have had access to schooling. “Fifty percent of the community is improved when girls receive an education because fifty percent of the community is controlled by women,” he says. According to Haji, when women are educated, they raise their children to be educated and productive members of society.
While about 15,000 girls now attend school in Haji’s province – which includes four high schools for girls and one co-ed university in addition to a co-ed training academy for teachers, as well as English and computer classes – illiterate women are not left behind. The DDA helps women without an education start small business ventures, such as poultry farming and carpet weaving, to help care for their families.
Thanks to the NABDP programme and training, DDAs are able to encourage communities to work together for development. For Haji, peace and stability are now at the core of his beliefs. "Continuing to take up arms will not bring positive change,” he says. “War brings only misfortune, poverty and darkness."
Text: Leanne M. Rios