Listening to vulnerable communities – Understanding displaced and hosts in and around informal settlements

August 21, 2018

For decades Afghanistan has faced widespread displacements due to natural disasters, protracted crises and active conflict. Consequently, the number of people living in informal settlements is high and increasing. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is largely affected by this phenomenon, and the city has witnessed significant expansion of urban informal settlements in the past years.

The increase of people living in informal settlements in urban areas has brought humanitarian actors face to face with new challenges, and the capacity of the humanitarian community to understand the changing dynamics of these environments remains limited. To support the development of sustainable humanitarian responses and development programmes, AGORA, in partnership with UNHCR and BPRM, launched an assessment that shed light on how displacement affects community boundaries and how social networks among and between displaced and host communities are structured.

The area-based assessments was kicked off in late 2017 and focused on mapping perceived community boundaries of four informal settlements and surrounding areas. Boundaries of these areas were defined through eight focus groups discussions investigating the perceived borders, services used, and feelings toward near-by communities. The discussions were held both in settlements of internally displaced people as well as in host communities.

The focus group discussions revealed stark contrasts between the two communities. The displaced communities highlighted their displacement background as a significant factor setting them apart from host communities, and shared services were considered the main factor tying the groups together. The community boundaries drawn by the displaced communities circled around their informal settlements and basic services. Host communities in turn perceived the area as a coherent unit, populated by people with similar social characteristics and family relations. The boundaries drawn by host communities consisted of an area perceived as a single community, inclusive of informal settlements.

Secondly, AGORA conducted a social network analysis to better understand the relations between host and displaced communities and identify key informants for future assessments. The analysis investigated the exchange of information among 114 community, 36 WASH-focused and 49 female key informants and tested the accuracy of their answers to the findings of a parallel AGORA assessment involving over 1000 households.

Results of the social network analysis revealed that in general, members of Shura, the traditional Afghan local assembly, elders and community representatives provided the most accurate information. The analysis also highlighted that, on average, key informants representing the displaced community were more reliable than the ones from host communities. Furthermore, non-professional informants were noted to be more reliable than professional informants on WASH services and female informants more knowledgeable than male informants on women and child services.

The tools used in the AGORA project provided nuanced information on the dynamics of the assessed area for the use of both humanitarian and development actors, as well as local stakeholders. The AGORA approach highlighted the possibility of utilizing information of the relationships within a settlement to better design services and programmes that take the views of the residing communities into account.

For a more comprehensive overview of findings from the assessment, read the Kabul factsheet and the city profile. AGORA pilots have also been conducted in Jordan, Uganda and Niger.