This is a joint article by iMMAP and the World Food Programme.
Afghanistan consists of 70% mountainous areas at high altitude. Populations located in these areas are more exposed to winter conditions, which last from October to March. Every year freezing temperatures in these areas are a driver of needs, with a large proportion of shelters unable to keep out the cold and many people unable to afford heating. In many provinces, night-time temperatures often fall below -10°C during the winter. The 2020 Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs Overview
estimates that in 2020, 3.27 million people will require assistance to cover their winterization needs to cope with the harsh winter season across all 34 provinces. The mountainous areas of the country are also difficult to access in the winter months, due to heavy snowfall, avalanches, and landslides. Heavy snowfall in early 2020 exacerbated humanitarian needs across Afghanistan and closed roads, interrupting the provision of humanitarian assistance to people affected. According to WFP, there are 67 districts which are susceptible to snow blockades during the winter (this number can change based on the level of precipitation from year to year).
Removing snow from the road to allow the convoy to pass, Ajiristan District, Ghazni Province
Humanitarian actors operating in this kind of environment and facing these kinds of challenges require reliable, accurate, and timely geospatial data to help them make informed decisions related to planning and delivering emergency response operations. However, Afghanistan suffers from sparse and often inaccurate geospatial data. This hinders the ability of the humanitarian community and Afghan Government to effectively and efficiently reach people in need. Accurate geospatial data is a prerequisite to operate in a timely manner during winter months when it is especially difficult to reach remote mountainous communities. For instance, humanitarian deliveries of blankets and other in-kind relief items often require huge logistical arrangements as roads could be blocked by heavy snowfall in remote areas, and poor visibility could prevent the delivery of assistance by air.
WFP has been present in Afghanistan since 1963, working to ensure assistance reaches conflict- and disaster-affected populations wherever they are. As WFP’s challenges in the field increase significantly during the winter months, having reliable access to regularly updated, accurate geospatial data is essential to ensure informed decision-making.
Slippery slopes, one of the challenges in delivering assistance to populations in mountainous areas
A major challenge for the delivery of assistance by WFP’s Fleet to the most vulnerable populations in remote areas of provinces such as Badakhshan, Daikundi, Ghazni, and Ghor, is not only insecurity but also a lack of proper roads. Most of these locations are inaccessible during winter. Soon after the snow begins to melt, it starts raining from April to May and sometimes until June. Muddy roads again result in the cancellation of missions or cause delays in deliveries. Furthermore, it also increases technical breakdowns and more fuel consumption resulting in higher delivery costs.
At the request of WFP, iMMAP has supported WFP’s winter response operations in Afghanistan by sharing existing base and weather layers from the Afghanistan Spatial Data Center (ASDC) for inclusion in WFP’s own internal online dashboard, built to support WFP’s field operations and security planning. ASDC layers - from the locations of schools to snow cover (updated daily from the U.S. National Ice Center's Interactive Multi-Sensor Snow and Ice Mapping System at 1 km resolution) - were dynamically linked with WFP’s internal online dashboard, providing valuable input when combined with WFP’s own internal layers, such as supply routes. The ASDC layers also play a crucial role in WFP’s program planning and security analysis.
By supporting WFP’s operations through its geospatial expertise, iMMAP contributed to the provision of a coordinated and timely life-saving response to populations in need during Afghanistan’s harsh winter, as well as avoided the duplication of efforts. The base and weather layers shared will also help to inform WFP’s future humanitarian operations. iMMAP is proud to collaborate with WFP and remains on standby to provide further information management support.
The snow cover layer from iMMAP’s Afghanistan Spatial Data Center that was shared with WFP
Funded by USAID OFDA, iMMAP has been actively operating in Afghanistan since 2010. iMMAP delivers information management products and services to key partners in humanitarian response and DRR, including humanitarian clusters, USAID OFDA implementing partners, OCHA, the Afghan Government, and civil society.