When natural disaster strikes in the mountainous and sparsely populated Badakhshan and Baghlan regions of northern Afghanistan, many residents are unprepared to immediately cope with the challenges and unable to access local aid. The Aga Khan Foundation, in partnership with Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), is helping community members become more self-reliant and better able to respond to earthquakes and avalanches and other natural disasters, which occur frequently in these remote rural areas. FOCUS brings extensive experience to regional humanitarian aid and preparedness to bear as communities learn how to plan for and respond to disasters.

The project assists community members in mapping out safe havens and evacuation routes and constructing low-cost mudflow channels and retention walls to mitigate the impact of disasters. FOCUS establishes small stockpiles of essential, non-food items in villages and larger stockpiles at district capitals. Stockpiles include items like tents, blankets, tarpaulin, gloves, etc. By August 2015, the disaster preparedness project’s fourth phase will have reached more than 50,000 people.

Community Driven Approach to Emergency Response in Remote Areas

A successful component of the program is the formation of emergency response teams in the communities and schools. Eighty one Community Emergency and Response Teams (CERTs) have been formed, comprised of men and women. Team members receive training in basic search and rescue techniques, first aid skills and emergency response management. Additionally, 16 School Emergency Response Teams have been formed and trained on first aid and search & rescue methods. Both sets of teams are equipped with first aid, emergency communications and basic search & rescue tools to provide immediate, assistance in the event of a natural disaster.

CERTs maintain the stockpiles and facilitate community preparedness. The teams also ensure that special vulnerable groups such as widows, elderly and children receive appropriate assistance during a disaster. The project is committed to gender equality in a country where cultural and security factors often limit women’s participation. Women fill some key staff roles, such as the project team leader for Baghlan. Women are included in CERT teams and girls are active and key members of school teams.

With well-trained staff and the community driven approach, villagers living in remote, disaster-prone regions of Afghanistan have already begun to see a reduction in the loss of lives, livelihoods and property in their communities.

For more on this project, read this article in Frontlines, the magazine of the U.S. Agency for International Development.