permaculture relief aid in Afghanistan/ Pakistan

Pacific Edge Permaculture + Media pacedge at
Sun Oct 14 21:48:35 EDT 2001

The idea of emergency aid intervention to Afghanistanis by permaculture
people is reminiscent to what happened with East Timor (where permaculture
people are at present operating and where agencies unconnected with
permaculture are doing permaculture-like work) and after the tsunami that
devestated the north coast of PNG several years ago.

There is, it seems, a welcome humanitarian streak to be found among
permaculture people that manifests in the desire to do something positive
about humanitarian relief.

May I throw into the discussion a few questions regarding the Afhganistan

1) What would be the objectives of the operation?

Would it be to assist refugees on the Pakistani border cope with the
emergency phase of the crisis?

Would it be to enter Afghanistan, when that becomes possible ( I believe
that aid agencies have evacuated Kabul - there's probably a very good reason
for that), and to provide assistance to the reestablishment of civil
infrastructure, including the food supply? That would be a project spanning
a reasonable number of years if it is to provide sustainable outcomes.

The reason you need clear objectives is to stay focused, otherwise you will
be all over the place, spreading you energy too widely and producing little.

2) If intervention is aimed at the humanitarian situation, what sort of aid
is necessary? Food supply? Medical services? Water supply? Housing?

There are already organisations geared specifically to emergency response
operational in the field - Red Cross/ Red Crescent; UN; Medicins Sans
Frontiers, military organisations and so on... then there are similar
organisations such as CARE International and World Vision that have people
cognisant with the challenges of emergency relief.

Has the permaculture team spoken to any of these to assess what are the
priority needs?

3) What is the capacity of the permaculture people/ organisations to provide
the type of aid necessary without duplicating what the professional
organisations are already providing and without getting in the way of the
humanitarian organisations?

Can they sustain an operation in terms of skills availability (some needs
might require specialist skills - water supply/ medical assistance etc);
logistics (do they have a support team at home who can source materials/
liaise with aid bodies and government; communications - how would  they
communicate with their supporters - are phone lines available? mail? fax? do
they have a satellite phone? then there's the budget  -  how would the
operation be sustained financially?)

4) Can they support themselves in the field?

Is food available locally? Communications? Can they care for their own
health (without this capacity they are useless to anyone)? Where will they
accommodate themselves? What about transport? Climatic conditions? Do they
have medical insurance with medical evacuation coverage?

What is their knowledge about field security?

Would they liaise with their own consulates so their whereabouts are known?

5) How would they get permissions to operate in-country?

Would they need special visas? Do they need permission from local military
authorities to enter areas where they might operate? Do aid organisations
need registration or accreditation with the Pakistani government to work

6) Is there anyone available with necessary language skills?

7) Is anyone available with humanitarian aid experience/ knowledge of the
challenges of operating in the confusing dynamics of a refugee/ humanitarian
situation on the edge of a military conflict in which supporters and
possibly combatants of the pro-Talibal forces could be among the refugees?

I offer none of this as discouragement, but as things to think through. Most
of all, you need a clear sense of your own mission.

I agree to some extent with the assertion of Jo Tenner, who wrote:

>"Any aid that can get there should seem to have two objectives:
>> - meeting the immediate needs of hungry/starving people
>> - preserving indigenous planting material and indigenous knowledge
>> in order to allow the people to get back as quickly as possible to doing
>> what they know best - feeding themselves.
>> Lets not introduce yet another form of neo-colonialism, however
>> well-intentioned."

I would suggest that the first  of Jo's assertions is the critical one at
this phase of the situation. Her second is really a concern of the
post-emergency phase of reestablishment of the civil society infrastructure.

I'm unclear what she means by the statement about neo-colonialism. Emergency
aid is not colonialism, it is a temporary phase of keeping people alive. It
seems to be a 'political niceity' that could self-impose limitations and
might be best left to the armchair politicos in the comfort of academia or
those burdened with political guilt or bearing the burden of a political
ideology/ agenda of some sort.

I use the term 'permaculture team' deliberately above. A single person or a
vary small team - especially if they are  poorly resourced - can achieve
only a little and not contribute a great deal to the overall humanitarian
effort. A team, preferably set up as an aid organisation or operating with
an existing aid agency, can maintain a momentum and sustain itself far
better. It can have a greater impact and carry on longer than it takes a few
well-motivated individuals to burn out or retire from the field due to
illness or injury.

There is the wider issue of the reputation of permaculture. A colleague of
mine was asked by the aid organisation he consults to to justify the use of
permaculture approaches in aid, as there is practically no reliable
evaluation of permaculture aid projects -or permaculture projects in
developed countries, for that matter.

There does exist - and I know this from my own involvement in development
aid project management - the notion in some areas that permaculturists,
though they be well motivated, jump into field activities impetuously and
may not stay around for the years that are necessary for development
projects to have sustainable outcomes.

Emergency aid is not simply food supply - governments and the UN are more or
less good at supplying emergency food. And a sustainable food supply is the
product of the post-emergency phase when aid folds into development.
Emergency aid involves medical services, sanitation in camps, housing,
linking up displaced relatives, water supply and more - these things are all
linked - food and gardening are not ends in themselves; they form part of
the overall emergency aid package.

How would permaculture fit into this?

It's good to see participants on this list offering information for those
who would volunteer for this unenviable task.

...Russ Grayson

> From: J Kolenovsky <garden at>
> Organization: HAL-PC
> Reply-To: "permaculture" <permaculture at>
> Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 13:45:10 -0500
> To: "permaculture" <permaculture at>
> Subject: Re: pc in Kabul
> Below is John Croppers quote about the take on Afghanistan and I feel it
> is a good one. Many of us are compassionate towards Afghan issue and
> want to share our contributions, but there could be a fine line here
> about true motive and its efforts. (i.e., Nation-building) I think his
> point is one to be conscious of.
> The earlier post that day from Jo Tenner about the current relief
> efforts of the UNHCR is closer to the parallel that John is drawing.
>> "Any aid that can get there should seem to have two objectives:
>> - meeting the immediate needs of hungry/starving people
>> - preserving indigenous planting material and indigenous knowledge
>> in order to allow the people to get back as quickly as possible to doing
>> what they know best - feeding themselves.
>> Lets not introduce yet another form of neo-colonialism, however
>> well-intentioned."
>> John Cropper
> -- 
> J Kolenovsky, A+, Network +, MCP
> Texas Wildscape # 1564, NWF Backyard Habitat # 28771
> ---
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