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On 16th September, the director of Peaceland Foundation Geneva office, Zhan Weizhen, hosted a round table discussion, focusing on the humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan provided by Chinese NGOs, the problems they face, and how organizations can collaborate to better deliver humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. About 40 people from Chinese humanitarian organizations, universities, research institutes, and UN agencies in China registered and participated in the event.
First, Ms. Qiu Lili, the founder of Peaceland Foundation, introduced our emergency relief, disaster relief and cultural heritage protection projects in Afghanistan since 2021 and the problems we encountered. In response to the malnutrition of children in Afghanistan, Peaceland cooperated with Gansu Liaoyuan Dairy Group to provide Halal milk powder for babies; in addition, Peaceland joined hands with Anta Sports to provide Afghan people with warm clothes. We are deeply grateful for the help of Chinese companies, overseas Chinese and all our volunteers.
Seven days after the earthquake in Afghanistan (22nd June), Peaceland Foundation responded, with our local emergency team distributing basic foodstuffs (flour, rice and cooking oil) to 125 affected households. On 7th August, we sent a team of rescue experts with equipment and supplies to Afghanistan to carry out earthquake and flood disaster relief training for the Afghan Red Crescent and the Afghan National Rescue Team. More details of out Afghanistan projects can be seen in Foundation Action Humanitarian aid to people in Afghanistan and Emergency response | Humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.
In the area of cultural heritage conservation, we have conducted regular inspections of the Bamiyan Caves since 2021 and have funded many conservationists who are struggling to survive in Afghanistan.
The problems we encountered included difficulties in transporting materials across borders and lack of funds. For example, milk powder arrived in Afghanistan after a 2-month journey via China-Europe Railway Express. The procedures behind this regarding the import and export of aid materials were complicated. Due to the delay in transportation, we replaced the milk powder twice for its shelf life, and each time we had to readjust the relevant documents according to the local qualification requirements, customs declarations from both sides, and the requirements of the recipient. After raising supplies from partnering Chinese companies, additional funds are needed to cover labor and logistics costs during international material assistance. Although we are qualified to raise funds in China, we are still underfunded. This is a problem that many agencies in China, and even the UN in China, face. In the future, we hope to attract more media and communications attention for international humanitarian work. This will help NGOs to access funding.
(Photo from Dr. Wang Duanyong)
Next, Dr. Wang Duanyong, the founder of Friends of Hindu Kush Organization (FHKO), shared their experience in providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. FHKO was established in 2021 after Dr.Wang visited the slums in Kabul and realized the urgency to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. FHKO focuses on education, health, children and gender equality assistance and so far, they have conducted 15 aids. One example is that they provided 50 kg flour and 5 L oil to 350 teachers in primary and secondary school teachers considering their low monthly income (about 90 US dollars). Few NGOs have noticed the difficulties of the primary and secondary school teachers before, and this donation received a lot of media attention.
(Photo from Dr. Wang Duanyong)
Their latest activity was the post-earthquake aid in late June. They noticed that the recipient village had received less assistance due to rough roads and high levels of insecurity. In response to this situation, FHKO provided 400 bags of flour to 300-400 local families.
During their humanitarian assistance, Dr. Wang has visited 17 provinces in Afghanistan, and he found out that food shortages in Afghanistan were mostly caused by the low purchasing power of local people, rather than a shortage of supply. As a result, they changed their aid model from buying food in China to buying locally. During the roundtable discussion, Dr. Wang also shared their difficulties in the registration process of FHKO, the slow traffic in Afghanistan (a speed limit of 15 km/h in some areas), the upholding of girls' right to education, as well as the lack of funding, especially with the restrictions on international financial flows to Afghanistan. In the future, FHKO will put more efforts in poverty alleviation and development based on the existing agricultural infrastructure in Afghanistan, and they will continue to provide emergency assistance to women and children.
Then, Mr. Ignacio Parker, the executive director of International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), affirmed the role played by Chinese NGOs in the humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. He also talked about the importance of cooperation between NGOs and the standards of humanitarian assistance.
In recent years, ICVA has recruited Chinese staff to study international aid conducted by Chinese NGOs, as they have noticed a growing number of Chinese social organizations engaged in international aid. Mr. Parker believes that the entire international aid system needs the presence of Chinese NGOs and that some of the aid models from Chinese NGO are inspirational. For example, Peaceland Foundation works with enterprises on humanitarian aid and fully engages international students and overseas Chinese in the process, all of which strengthen the ties between social groups and local communities.
In the perspective of the current humanitarian needs of Afghanistan, first of all, Afghanistan has a humanitarian response plan every year, which is the guide for any international and local organizations to carry out humanitarian work. The achievements of aid activities under the guidelines and the remaining needs are reviewed and made public frequently. According to the plan, until the second half of the year, we are still facing a $2.1 million funding gap for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. Therefore, ICVA is very concerned about financing. On the one hand, ICVA cooperates with national and international NGOs and UN agencies to lobby government representatives in Geneva for additional humanitarian funding support. On the other hand, ICVA encourages humanitarian aid organizations not to act alone, but to work collaboratively to make better use of funds and effectively meet the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan. As a humanitarian aid network organization, ICVA serves for the exchange of information for NGOs to efficiently respond to humanitarian needs.
Mr. Parker responded to the protection of specific groups in Afghanistan mentioned by Dr. Wang, especially women's rights. He said that this is an issue that the international community is now paying close attention to, and various organizations are also trying their best to help women groups. Peaceland Foundation and FHKO have also carried out related assistance work in this regard. He emphasized the humanitarian principles that humanitarian aids should follow--humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Humanity means paying attention to any groups in difficulty, especially vulnerable groups. Neutrality means that humanitarian aid must not favor any particular side. Impartiality means that humanitarian aid must be provided solely on the basis of need, without discrimination. Independence means the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from political, economic, military or other objectives. Following humanitarian principles does not exclude communicating with others. Therefore, Mr. Parker said that in the process of aiding Afghanistan, it is very important to communicate with the Taliban government. It is necessary to establish a dialogue system with the government, national and international NGOs and UN agencies to regularly discuss related issues in order to better serve women and other vulnerable groups. In the process of dialogue, it is also necessary to position ourselves as a humanitarian agency and maintain the humanitarian principles in activities.
Finally, Mr. Parker said that ICVA hopes to maintain communication and strengthen the cooperation with Chinese NGOs as it continues to provide support to NGOs conducting humanitarian assistance.
In the Q&A session, Ms. Liu Wenxia shared her experience of carrying out milk powder assistance in Afghanistan with Peaceland Foundation. She is the founder of Shangri-La Think Tank, which focuses on guiding and bridging entrepreneurs to work with NGOs, enabling enterprises participating in global humanitarian assistance. In 2021, Ms. Liu was hit by a picture of an Afghan child starved to death in a hospital from Ms. Qiu Lili. She immediately contacted Chinese entrepreneurs and soon received a response from a company that produces milk cans for milk powder. This was the starting point for the milk powder assistance introduced earlier. In fact, there are many enterprises in China that have the love and strength but no channel to provide it. Therefore, what the Shangri-La Think Tank does is to regularly release information of demands, and when enterprises receive the information, they can carry out relevant assistance work.
At the end of the discussion, Ms. Mariangela Bavicchi, the board member of Peaceland Foundation Geneva, made concluding remarks. She said that she was very pleased to learn that many Chinese NGOs are carrying out international assistance in Afghanistan. With the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war earlier this year, lots of international funds flew to Ukraine, while the aid funding gap in Afghanistan is still very large. She believes that Chinese NGOs have the potential to do more in the field of international humanitarian assistance.
In addition, she said that it is very necessary for Peaceland Foundation to set up an office and carry out activities in Geneva, as it promotes the communication and cooperation between Chinese NGOs, UN agencies and international NGOs. Ms. Mariangela is very much looking forward to Peaceland Foundation Geneva to provide more support and cooperation opportunities for Chinese humanitarian agencies, especially the opportunities to communicate with other NGOs in Geneva.
Meeting minutes writing: Chen Kaiming, Li Tiange