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Watchdog: Efforts to help internally displaced Afghans hindered

Watchdog: Efforts to help internally displaced Afghans hindered
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Efforts to help Afghans internally displaced in their home country have been hindered by a lack of coordination among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and resistance by some Afghan provincial governments, according to an inspector general's review.

“We found that resistance from some Afghan provincial governments and limitations within key ministries have delayed support for [internally displaced persons] and limited the full implementation of the Afghan government’s IDP policy,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko wrote in a letter to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. “We also found that NGOs and international organizations funded by USAID and State did not fully coordinate their efforts.”

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The letter, dated Monday and released publicly Thursday, is a follow-up to a SIGAR audit from August 2015. That audit found the Afghan government had limited success implementing its policy on internal refugees because the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation was facing allegations of corruption and had limited capacity to fulfill its duties.

In the latest review, SIGAR reiterated the problems with the ministry but added the provincial governments and the NGOs to the issues hampering aid to internally displaced Afghans.

At least 948,000 people were displaced within Afghanistan by violent conflict as of June 2015, the most recent data the letter cites.

Provincial governments are rejecting their responsibility to take in the refugees, according to the letter.

“For example, according to State, some provincial governments have not accepted that IDPs have a right to stay in their provinces and were more inclined to regard the IDPs as economic migrants who do not have the same rights, such as the right to food, water, adequate shelter, and health care, as other Afghans,” the letter said.

Further, some provincial governments have demolished refugee housing to make way for urban development and infrastructure, according to the letter.

Meanwhile, NGOs that have received State Department and USAID funding coordinated their efforts inconsistently, the letter says.

“Officials from a number of organizations we interviewed reported that at the operational level, they used their personal relationships to facilitate rapid responses to crises,” the letter says. “However, because of frequent personnel turnover within NGOs, international organizations and donor countries operating in Afghanistan, coordination that relies on personal relationships may result in a lack of coordination between USAID and State implementing partners operating in the same sectors.”

From 2010 to 2014, USAID provided more than $67 million to 16 organizations to provide humanitarian aid to internally displaced people. During that same period, the State Department provided more than $325 million to organizations that help vulnerable populations, including internally displaced people.

While the State Department and USAID recommend groups coordinate, neither agency requires it as a condition for funding, the letter added.

“According to USAID and State officials in Washington, D.C., their primary reason for not requiring the NGOs and international organizations they fund to coordinate their IDP assistance efforts is to ensure that those organizations can focus on their humanitarian work, rather than attending coordination meetings.”

In a written response to a draft of the letter, the State Department said it is confident NGOs effectively coordinate to avoid duplication of efforts.

“As stated in the letter, there are multiple avenues for coordinate, including cluster meetings, various [United Nations] assistance meetings, donor meetings and regional team meetings,” wrote Anne Richards, assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration (PRM). “We encourage all our funding partners to actively participate in all relevant bodies. In addition, every PRM NGO funding decision includes a critical review of the coordination plans and capabilities of each organization.”

USAID responded that it agrees coordination is important and requires applicants for grants to describe their sector-level coordination efforts in their proposals.

“USAID is steadfast in its commitment to continue to improve effective coordination of life-saving work and to implement our projects as effectively and efficiently as possible,” wrote USAID’s James Fleming.