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Afghanistan: ERM Qualitative Longitudinal Study (QLS) Final Report - June 2020

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In 2020, Afghanistan enters the fifth decade of protracted conflict, alongside recurrent and severe natural disasters that have affected the population. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered a total of two million Afghans displaced inside Afghanistan, and bringing the total number of displaced people to almost 4.1 million . Afghans were also identified as the longest displaced and the longest dispossessed population globally . The Emergency Response Mechanism (ERM) is a rapid response facility funded by the Directorate General of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG-ECHO) to provide immediate, lifesaving assistance to shock-affected populations in Afghanistan since 2011. Between May 2019 and April 2020, ERM round nine was implemented through a coordinated alliance of seven humanitarian organizations delivering multi-purpose cash assistance (MPCA), protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) assistance nationwide. Whilst there are multiple activities assessing the quality and short-term outcomes of MPCA there is limited data on the longer-term impacts of one time multi-purpose cash on vulnerable shock-affected communities.

In light of this information gap, REACH, in coordination with ERM partners launched a qualitative longitudinal study (QLS) in Ghor, Herat, Nangahar and Faryab. The QLS is aimed to track the continued impact of assistance on basic needs of a sample of MPCA recipients over time, and where needs persist and/or remain unmet. Following on from the preliminary report that outlined findings from the first round of data collection, this report summarizes the key findings from the total five rounds of the assessment.

The caseload selected for the study included 266 households with whom household-level interviews and 40 focus group discussions (FGDs) (10 per province) were conducted during the first round. The five QLS data collection rounds were conducted over a nine-month period between August 2019 and April 2020. Data from the five rounds were then compiled and analysed in R, while the FDGs were analysed through the facilitators’ notes. Thus, over the rounds, it is possible to have a clear indication of the extent to which the one-time cash affected this sample group, and how their humanitarian needs changed over a prolonged period after assistance. It should be considered that the findings proposed represent the assessed households’ perspectives and self-assessments perceptions. It also needs to be considered that the sample group received the assistance in July and August 2019, and the monitoring period covered winter months (rounds three and four), and thus reported challenges and needs over time may be related to seasonality. Given the sampling methods used, household-level findings should be considered representative of the specific population group assessed only, and when reading the graphs and interpreting the findings, it should be considered that the number of households varied across rounds.

The vast majority of assessed households remained in their area of displacement (86%) up to the fifth and final round of data collection, nine months after having received their ERM multi-purpose cash assistance. This is important to note, as whilst ERM MPCA is not designed to support household needs beyond the first two months, the continued displacement status of so many beneficiary households likely affected needs. The 2019 Whole of Afghanistan Assessment (WoAA) found that those displaced for more than six months (‘prolonged internally displaced persons (IDPs)’) often had greater needs than those that were newly displaced (within the first six months of displacement).

The priority needs of the majority of QLS-assessed beneficiary households were food, shelter, non-food items (NFIs), healthcare, and WASH. Whilst there was some variation across sectors of need, there was a general trend in levels of humanitarian need improving in the short term, following receipt of assistance, but then remaining the same or worsening over time. For example, the analysis of the reduced coping strategy index (rCSI), a measure of the severity of coping mechanisms used by the household to meet needs, showed an improvement in the initial months but then plateaued after the second round in December.

In terms of capacity to cope with shock and displacement, this trend suggests that whilst many beneficiary households may not necessarily show signs of severe humanitarian need following receipt of MPCA, they at minimum showed a reduced capacity to cope with their immediate situation, that persisted over time. This indicates a need for short-term emergency assistance to be coupled with longer-term resilience and recovery, and livelihoods, focused programming for shock-affected households. The need for livelihoods interventions was further evidenced by findings on socio-economic status.

These findings were further supported by the analysis on debt, showing that the proportion of households in debt increased over time, likely due to negative net-income ratio leading to households that had not been in debt prior, exhausting other coping mechanisms and needing to borrow or purchase on credit to meet their household needs. In addition, non-financial barriers to meeting needs were frequently reported, even in the shorter term. Two key issues, namely safety and security concerns and socio-cultural barriers constituted the most significant barriers, together with lack of facilities and infrastructure, limited physical accessibility, and ethnic difference/tensions, particularly for displaced households. This has several implications that should be considered when designing response strategies to similar caseloads. Whilst an effective and adaptable modality, multi-purpose cash cannot address all needs, and should be utilized in tandem with in-kind and service-based assistance to address specfic sectoral needs. Furthermore, socio-cultural barriers reported indicated strongly gendered access to services and therefore needs, emphasizing that interventions should be modulated to ensure the needs of all population groups are met.

Overall, from monitoring the needs over time of a select caseload of ERM MPCA beneficiary households, findings showed that one-time cash assistance, although impactful in the short-term, was not able to address all needs, and key humanitarian needs persisted in the longer-term. By the fifth round, the QLS-assessed households, whilst no longer immediately shock-affected, possibly qualify as vulnerable households either currently or potentially in need of humanitarian assistance, as identified in the Afghanistan 2020 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO).

The implications of this are two-fold. Firstly, that whatever capacity these households have may be continually eroded over time, leading them into more severe need, or potentially even re-displacement. Secondly, that these households are unlikely to be able to withstand any additional shocks, such as conflict, natural disaster, or displacement as a consequence of either. Consequently, there is a need to follow up on the emergency assistance delivered to mitigate the initial shock in the short-term, and ensure durable and more sustainable solutions for affected population through an integrated humanitarian and development response.