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Afghanistan Special Report: Livelihood Assessment of Internally Displaced Persons in Herat Province

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Afghanistan
  • November 2013
Afghanistan Special Report: Livelihood Assessment of Internally Displaced Persons in Herat Province

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  • Key Messages
  • Executive Summary
  • Background
  • Methodology
  • IDPs’ vulnerability to the political context
  • Livelihood options
  • Assessment findings and conclusions
  • Key Messages
    • Income earning opportunities for the long-term internally displaced persons (IDPs) are more complex than previously understood, and are especially limited during wintertime when labor opportunities decrease to their minimum and expenses reach their seasonal peak. However, during most of the year, the majority of households are able to employ basic survival and protection strategies to sufficiently meet needs.

    • New IDPs (displaced within the last 6 months) have difficulty meeting their basic survival needs as external assistance does not last for more than a few months and employment options for them are extremely limited.

    • External assistance does not contribute significantly to the IDPs’ incomes and food sources in Herat Province. Currently, only new IDPs can receive a one-time external assistance package. To better estimate food assistance needs, valuable insights could be gained by understanding the nutritional status of all Herat IDPs in camps.

    Executive Summary

    IDPs in Herat Province are particularly vulnerable to their surrounding political context, where a lack of national policy for IDPs poses significant challenges to their lives and livelihoods. Some IDPs receive external assistance but not all. Only new IDPs (those in camps for less than six months) receive external food assistance. In the case of Herat, this is a one-time assistance package, which can feed an IDP household for two to three months (for an average IDP household size of six). Available livelihood options post-displacement (after six months) depend largely on the IDP camps’ surrounding environment, distance from the city center, and the expected duration of the displacement.

    The available livelihood options for long-term IDPs (those who have been displaced for one or more years) are much better than the new IDPs who live on begging and charity. For example, higher paying labor opportunities such as wool spinning and pistachio peeling are not available for new IDP women, given that these jobs require established relationships with traders and would therefore only be available for the long-term IDPs. Nevertheless, the long-term IDPs are still considered vulnerable to their particular political environment and limited livelihood options.

    Similarly, when one compares the livelihood options for the poor wealth group of the resident population of Herat city with the IDPs, residents are well-paid and better off due to social ties and accessible networks in their own community.

    Despite numerous external interventions in Herat, there is no updated nutrition survey for IDPs in Herat since 2004. More recent information would help to better determine the needs for external assistance, particularly as regular nutrition assessments are taking place for the IDPs living in and around Kabul.


    As of August 2013, there were 590,134 individuals internally displaced persons in Afghanistan according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). IDPs make up a notable proportion of the Afghan population, and they are widely believed to have minimal access to food and income. However, in Afghanistan, the livelihoods of internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain poorly understood.

    In December 2002, the number of IDPs living in Herat was 18,720 (Figure 2). FEWS NET Afghanistan conducted a rapid IDP livelihood assessment in September 2013 in Herat Province, which is now home to 158,647 IDPs—the second largest number per province in the country (Figure 3). This represents an increase of over 800 percent in IDPs compared to a decade ago.


    To conduct the IDP livelihood assessment, FEWS NET utilized a four-step process including: a desk review, coordination measures with the IDP taskforce in Herat Province, data collection, and a stakeholder briefing.

    Desk review. Information from the desk review revealed that livelihoods for IDPs living in Herat are highly dependent on casual, daily wage labor and on external assistance. The desk review only informed part of the reality; information from the IDP taskforce was useful in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the situation.  

    Coordination with the IDP taskforce. FEWS NET Afghanistan coordinated with the IDP taskforce, which included the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP), the National Directory of Refugees and Repatriation (DRR), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the War Child-UK, and U.N. Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat). Collaboration with these partners facilitated information exchange and provided a forum to better understand stakeholders’ concerns on the ground.

    Data collection. There are five IDP concentration points (camps) in Herat province (Figure 4). FEWS NET held focus groups with IDPs in each of the camps to understand and obtain information about current livelihoods, recent trends in how food and income have been sourced, and how these trends are different compared to pre-displacement and other migratory forms of income generation. Information was also gathered in order to derive a comparison with residents from the poor wealth group in Herat. Households in Herat city were interviewed in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of individual households’ livelihood options and their key sources of food and income.

    Stakeholder briefing. Once the data was collected and compiled, it was presented to UNOCHA to see if there were any controversial issues between the assessment findings and IDP taskforce’s understanding of IDP situation. The assessment, which was carried out through the lens of IDP livelihoods rather than IPD needs, and its findings were confirmed by UNOCHA.

    IDPs’ vulnerability to the political context

    IDPs in Herat originate from different parts of the country that encompass a variety of ethnic groups, a large portion being Pashtun, which are not necessarily the same ethnic groups found in Herat Province, which is principally Tajik. These differences can often have an impact on access to services and income generating opportunities. IDPs in Herat currently compete with the local population for income from casual labor. Herat Province has a population of 1.78 million and Herat city has 436,300 people, according the the Central Statistics Organization of the government of Afghanistan. Given that the inflow of IDPs reaches almost ten percent of the population of the province and over 30 percent of the city’s resident population, IDPS contribute to a significant percentage of the workforce in the market. However, barriers like language, ethnicity and religion can pose obstacles to earning wages and sustaining livelihoods.

    Assistance from international agencies has decreased in these camps over the last three years. Land disputes, particularly where IDP camps are located, could influence agencies’ decisions to undertake new development or emergency activities.

    During the period of displacement, some IDPs lack or lose National Identification Cards, which prevents IDPs from seeking formal employment and accessing legal means in the case of disputes. Despite the fact that some IDPs have been settled in Herat for over 20 years, they still cannot obtain ID cards. In the meantime, other ethnic groups, such as Hazara, who moved to Herat city in the Maslakh camp during the same timeframe or even later, have managed to obtain ID cards and thus exercise their public/legal rights.

    The Government of Afghanistan’s IDP policy is still in draft form, which can create ambiguous interpretation. Assistance agencies use different definitions of an IDP. The current practice is that only new IDPs (those that have been there for less than six months and identified as such) can receive a one-time emergency assistance package, which generally lasts for two to three months for an average size (six member) household.

    Services typically available in other IDP or refugee contexts are not all avaialbe in the camps in Herat. For example, there is no health clinic available in any of the IDP concentration points and the majority of drinking water sources do not function properly or at all in IDP camps. There is no updated nutrition assessment since 2004. Information reflecting the prevalence and severity of the nutritional status of IDPs could be vital in better determining external assistance needs. 

    The ambiguity around IDP regulations and policies creates an environment conducive to IDPs searching for alternate sources of income. Under such circumstances, poppy smugglers for example recruit adolescents from the IDPs camps, through which some IDPs support their livelihoods. However, this often results in these adolescents being caught and going to prison for long periods of time, at which point their households’ livelihoods must find alternate livelihoods to offset the loss of household income.

    Livelihood options

    The majority of Herat's IDPs come from the Northwest Agropastoral livelihood zone. Nevertheless, there are some from southern, central highlands, and northeastern parts of the country as well. The IDPs’ main livelihoods before displacement were animal husbandry and, to an extent, agriculture. After displacement, livelihoods changed radically.  

    Post-displacement for long-term IDPs

    Available livelihood options for the post-displacement period depend largely on the IDP camps’ surrounding environment, distance from the city center, and the duration of displacement (Figure 4). For example, the Minaret Camp is located right in the city center where no transportation cost is involved to Herat city. The IDPs’ main livelihood is loading/offloading and carrying of goods via self-owned pushcarts, which brings in decent income given Herat city is a trading hub.

    After Minaret, Shaydai is the second most well-located camp, which is close to the city center and the Herat Customs Department, offering significant loading and offloading opportunities for the surrounding areas.

    Maslakh is the furthest camp from the city center for the long-term IDPs. Here, transportation costs to Herat city hamper earnings from income. For example, a person can currently make about AFN 100 in a day through loading/offloading in Herat customs, but AFN 80 will go toward transportation costs for someone traveling from Maslakh Camp to Herat city. If even a light lunch is purchased, then no money will be earned that day. Under these circumstances, the worker will likely seek other income-earning options, however such options are not always readily available.

    In addition to exploring available local livelihood options in the surrounding areas, young male IDPs migrate to Iran and to other parts of Afghanistan. For example, the assessment team interviewed IDP households whose male members migrated this year to Helmand and Badghis Provinces during the poppy harvests. They were able to bring in incomes that could cover basic needs for their families for four to six months. Similarly, the assessment team interviewed IDP households whose main income source was remittances from Iran. These households reported this income as essential for attaining the survival threshold, however reaching their livelihood protection threshold during the winter is still understood to be problematic. The livelihood protection threshold during the wintertime includes shelter, heating, adequate clothing, and available resources for health care as respiratory infections reach their peak at this time.

    IDP women are involved in wool spinning and pistachio peeling, while their children are involved in plastic collection sold for recycling. In a given week or so, AFN 150 can be earned for spinning 4 kilgorams (kg) of wool and AFN 30 earned for peeling 4 kg of pistachios. Plastic collection for recycling earns AFN 40 per day for about 4 kg of plastic.

    Some IDP women and men are involved in construction and brick-making. However, this option is no longer feasible as there is not signficant investment by the private sector in construction this year due the expected withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan in 2014. In addition, this option was prohibited in Maslakh Camp by the military base in order to avoid excavations close to the base.  

    Post-displacement for new IDPs

    When one compares the available livelihood options of the long-term IDPs with new ones, the new IDPs encounter greater difficulty partly because of their physical location and concentration points. These are either located in flood zones, such as in the case of Firqa, or too far away from the city, such as Kamer Kalagh. The main available livelihood option in the Kamer Kalagh camp is working in stone-crushing sites, which are close to the camps. Meanwhile, IDPs in Firqa are highly dependent on begging and charity.

    Poor wealth group in urban areas of Herat Province

    The available livelihood options for residents from the poor wealth group are more abundant and better paid than both the long-term and new IDPs. This stems directly from their social capital, the ties and networks they have been able to form over time. For example, the women in the group work as cooks, cleaners, or clothes washers, which pays more than wool-spinning, which is generally available for long-term IDP women. The vast majority of the residents’ children from the poor wealth group attend school instead of earning money for the household by collecting plastic from the streets, as in the case of the IDPs. Work for the men in this group is similar to IDP men, which is casual labor or migration to Iran. However, men in the local population’s poor wealth group reported during FEWS NET’s assessment that they can more easily access labor opportunities within Herat city than the IDPs men, again due to their social ties.

    Assessment findings and conclusions

    Opportunities for IDPs in Herat are closely linked to the IDP camps’ surrounding environment, distance from the city center, and the duration of displacement. In order to ensure enough income to meet survival needs, IDP men, women, and children all contribute to the family’s income. In terms of total income, the largest percentage of income for long-term IDPs comes from remittances from Iran, followed by internal labor migration, and finally casual labor opportunities. The income-earning opportunities for women and children are limited to wool spining, pistachio peeling, and plastic collection sold for recycling. New IDPs have difficulty meeting their survival needs. They live on external assistance for the first two to three months of being displaced, and then generally shift to begging and charity, particularly those who are closer to the city center. Available livelihood options for residents belonging to the poor wealth group are less restrictive and better paid than income-earning options for both the long-term and new IDPs.

    Figures Cumumlative total number of IDPs in Herat since 2002

    Figure 1

    Figure 2. Cumumlative total number of IDPs in Herat since 2002

    Source: UNHCR Afghanistan

    Total number of IDPs in the different regions of Afghanistan, August 2013

    Figure 2

    Figure 3. Total number of IDPs in the different regions of Afghanistan, August 2013

    Source: UNHCR Afghanistan

    IDP camps in Herat Province

    Figure 3

    Figure 4. IDP camps in Herat Province

    Source: FEWS NET Afghanistan

    Figure 4


    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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