Innovative Approaches to Community Development in Afghanistan: The “Leaking Pot” Exercise

By: Christopher James Wahoff and Ahmad Shaheer Shahriar[1]

Through the Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project (CCAP), images of leaking water pots have sprung up in communities throughout Afghanistan. These images serve a crucial purpose in teaching urban and rural communities about financial planning and the benefits of increasing income while lowering expenses related to traditional practices. Whereas traditional organizational structures placed the budgetary and decision-making power in the hands of a community’s male elders, CCAP requires that women and young people work side by side with their community members to analyze financial and economic pressures facing households through the “Leaking Pot” exercise and other participatory development planning tools. This categorical shift in community decision-making processes is a direct result of the support of the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund's (ARTF) 34 donor countries and organizations.[2]    

CCAP works through community-driven approaches to ensure that development outcomes are inclusive, sustainable, cost-effective, and responsive to demand. As Afghanistan’s protracted conflict has resulted in weakened government institutions, particularly at the sub-national level, making grassroots efforts to strengthen community structures through multifaceted Community Development Plans the only reliable strategy to promote targeted rural and urban development. To prepare their plans, each of the current 13,005 (12,155 rural and 850 urban)[3] community development councils (CDCs) take part in participatory, community-driven exercises that are meant to provide a nuanced understanding of each community’s economic and social relations with a focus on seasonal hunger, indebtedness, poor wages, lack of access to health services and education, among others.















Households identified as “poor” and “very poor”[4] through the Well-being Analysis participate in the “Leaking Pot” exercise. This visual balance sheet through the image of a pot (representing a livelihood pot) allows households to understand the reasons why the pot is always empty due to “leaking” expenses. The economic inputs and leaks are then analyzed to define their main sources of income as well as expenditures related to key life events (e.g., weddings, funerals). The analysis asks the participants to outline the expenditures that create particular hardships for the future and consider how to stop the leaks so that the pot remains full.  

As with most rural villages, members of the Keenjabuy village in the Khulm district of Afghanistan’s Balkh province struggle with finances. In Afghan communities, weddings, funerals, and other traditions require a large percentage of the family’s income. Following the leaking pot exercise, community members representing the village’s 70 households learned how to increase their possible income streams and lower expenditures. Merabuddin is a recently married day laborer who took part in the leaking pot exercise. The exercise sparked a community debate and helped Merabuddin realize that he and others spend far too much money (that they can only earn through many years of work) on wedding expenses. For example, Mearbuddin’s household spent 120,000 Afghanis (Afs) (US$1,560), including 100,000 Afs (US$1,300) in cash as a bride price with only 20,000 Afs (US$260) left for preparing traditional food for guests and other expenses. The Leaking Pot enabled the community to  re-evaluate the number of wedding guests, sign an agreement reducing the required bride price[5] from 300,000 Afs (US$3,899) to 200,000 Afs (US$2,600), and generally reduce of the average number of guests from 600 to 300 for each event.

Through these efforts, village elders representing communities throughout entire valleys have come together to collectively lower the required bride price to support their community’s efforts to promote financial responsibility. For example, following the “Leaking Pot” exercise, the Miranshah Villages in the Anaba District of the Panshir Province came together to develop a 26-article agreement that decreased expenditures for ceremonies, such as engagements, weddings, funerals, the new year, among others. The CDCs’ leaders and villages’ elders signed the agreement to collectively decrease the bride price to 60,000 Afs (US$780). They also agreed to establish a literacy course for women and founded a grain bank to support the most vulnerable households in their communities.

While these incremental changes throughout CDC communities may seem insignificant considering the current peace talks between the national government and the Taliban, they have allowed villagers to improve their economic condition and reduce future indebtedness which allows for greater investment in households well-being. Based on the results of the “Leaking Pot” and other participatory exercises, urban and rural communities allocate core infrastructure investments and grants, determine recipients of employment opportunities funded through maintenance and construction cash grants, participate in grain bank programs, and other standard services channeled through local CDCs.[6] As a result, the approximately 13.5 million beneficiaries have a better understanding of their community’s dynamics, public spending through their local CDC on public works and infrastructure projects, a greater sense of solidarity among community members, and greater trust in the government. The “leaking pot” has become a new symbol of hope to combat poverty throughout Afghan cities and the countryside, and its lessons are needed now more than ever.    

Read More about the Leaking Pot at World Bank Website

[1] The authors thank Luiza Nora, Brigitta Bode, Baktash Musawer, Maiwand Abrahimsai, and Moujeeb Rahman for their invaluable inputs and guidance. 

[2] The ARTF is a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank Group on behalf of 34 current and past donors, including: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Finland, Germany, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The ARTF provides on-budget financing to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through its Ministry of Finance and is the largest single source of such funding to the Government.      

[3]Afghanistan’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) is responsible for the implementation of CCAP in rural areas of the country, while the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) is responsible for implementation in urban areas.

[4] These designations are subjective and depend on each community’s socio-economic dynamics. For example, households that are considered “poor” in a given urban community may fall under the “better off” category in a different rural context.

[5] Note: A “bride price” is the price a groom’s family pays to the bride’s family to secure the union. While the so-called “bride price” is not technically permitted by Afghan law, it continues to be a widespread practice in urban and rural areas.