Tearfund has worked in Afghanistan for many years. We serve in an informal settlement built on government land, where displaced people from all over the country live without official permission.
One of our projects aimed to help communities reduce their risk of disasters. We began by asking them to identify their greatest risk. Instead of answering ‘flood’ or ‘drought’, this time the answer was ‘the police’. The insurgents living in their neighbourhood were fighting with the police, putting the residents in danger.
Our project was not meant to work on conflict issues, so we asked them to choose a natural hazard instead! We worked on the water project which they requested, but were surprised when some in the government opposed it. Introducing piped water would make the informal settlement more permanent; the community were still seeking to reduce their conflict-related risks, even through our water project. This dispute delayed the project by a few years and put our reputation and staff at risk. We learnt that in a conflict zone, we should always ask, ‘How will people try to use our project to strengthen their position in the conflict?’ People will use our work in ways we have not intended or imagined. Understanding the dynamics of the conflict is essential to avoid these kind of mistakes.