Even before the withdrawal of international forces and diplomatic missions and the takeover by the Taliban in August 2021, Afghanistan was one of the world's largest and most complex humanitarian emergencies (CHEs). More than two years after the withdrawal, and despite massive amounts of humanitarian assistance poured into the country, enormous humanitarian needs remain.
The 2023 Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) says Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis “with a very real risk of systemic collapse and human catastrophe.” While in past years humanitarian needs have been driven mainly by conflict, the key drivers of humanitarian need in 2023 include drought, climate change, protection threats (particularly for women and girls) and the economic crisis.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimated at the beginning of 2023 that a record 28.3 million people will need humanitarian and protection assistance this year, up from 24.4 million in 2022 and 18.4 million in 2021. With 28.3 million people in need, Afghanistan is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. The 2023 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requests $4.6 billion to reach 23.7 million people.
In addition to the political, social and economic shocks from conflict and the withdrawal of international forces, disaster risk is becoming an increasing driver of underlying need. A national drought was officially declared in June 2021 and is the worst in more than 30 years.
On Oct. 7, 2023, two separate 6.3-magnitude earthquakes near Herat in Afghanistan’s northwest caused significant damage and killed thousands. Another earthquake shook Herat Province on Oct. 11, resulting in further damage. The Herat Earthquake Response Plan from UN and humanitarian partners asks for $93.6 million to support 114,000 earthquake-affected people in Herat.
Following the devastating June 2022 earthquake that hit eastern Afghanistan, CDP hosted a webinar to provide funders with information about the intersection of a natural hazard disaster amid a humanitarian crisis. The insights and recommendations webinar panelists provided remain relevant.
(Photo: Afghan refugees in Iran. Source: EU/ECHO Pierre Prakash via Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Humanitarians say a lack of funding is hindering response and recovery efforts in the country. Local nongovernment organizations are particularly impacted as they implement about 70% of the UN programs in Afghanistan. As of Nov. 28, donors had funded only 39.5% of Afghanistan’s 2023 HRP.
In its June 2023 humanitarian update, UNOCHA reported that due to lack of funding, the World Food Programme (WFP) had to cut eight million food-insecure Afghans from receiving any assistance. On July 31, UNOCHA said “only a short window of opportunity exists to bring in vital assistance and supplies before the lean season and winter starts, and lives are potentially lost.”
In the Inter-Sector Winter Prioritisation for 2023, UNOCHA said, “Urgent funding for immediate winter prepositioning is critical. Not investing now will directly result in a raid worsening of vulnerabilities and will result in a costlier investment at a later stage.”
The Global Humanitarian Overview 2023 Mid-Year Update said, “In absolute terms, Afghanistan (- $950 million), Ukraine (- $600 million) and Syria ( – $60 million) have seen the sharpest decreases in funding compared to the same time last year.”
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, October 23
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, October 16
What donors can do to support Afghanistan’s back-to-back earthquake survivors
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, October 10
Long-term solutions must be prioritized in Afghanistan
- In 2023, 28.3 million people will need life-saving assistance. Humanitarian partners have prioritized 23.7 million people to receive multi-sectoral assistance in 2023.
- According to WFP, nine out of 10 Afghan families lacking adequate food and children and pregnant women are the hardest hit.
- Each year, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) releases a list of the 20 humanitarian crises expected to deteriorate the most over the next year. IRC’s 2023 Watchlist puts Afghanistan in the third spot due to widespread poverty, harsh winter conditions, disaster impacts and violence and exploitation against women and girls.
- On average, 200,000 Afghans are affected by disasters each year. From Jan. 1, 2023 to Oct. 5, 2023, 26,014 people were affected by disasters throughout Afghanistan. This figure was before the deadly earthquakes on Oct. 7 and Oct. 11 in Herat Province, which affected more than 275,000 people. As of Nov. 22, humanitarian actors had reached 242,400 affected people with assistance.
- In 2022, humanitarian partners reached 25 million people with at least one form of assistance. Yet, millions who received one form of assistance will continue to require multiple rounds of support in 2023 to survive.
- Humanitarian access constraints continue to impact the operational environment. In 2023, there has been a 21% spike in incidents reported by partners compared to the previous year, as of Oct. 31.
- The Taliban’s ban on women working for NGOs and UN agencies in the country means assistance will not reach all targeted women and girls. As UN Women survey of humanitarian partners released on Feb. 8, 2023 showed that 93% of organizations saw an increased impact on their access to affected women.
Decades of conflict and severe drought contributed to Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, but economic shocks are a primary driver of the deteriorating situation.
According to the 2023 Afghanistan HNO, “Afghanistan’s economic crisis is widespread, with more than half of households experiencing an economic shock in the last six months.”
A study by the United Nations Development Programme in April 2023 found that “Afghanistan’s economic output collapsed by 20.7 percent following the Taliban takeover in 2021.” The study also says, “The edicts restricting the rights of women and girls, including a directive banning Afghan women from working for the UN, directly affect economic productivity and may also impact the level of aid inflows.”
When the Taliban assumed power in August 2021, the country faced daunting economic and development challenges, and recent political developments have pushed the country into an economic crisis.
According to the World Bank, “Rapid reduction in international grant support, loss of access to offshore assets, and disruption to financial linkages are expected to lead to a major contraction of the economy, increasing poverty, and macroeconomic instability.”
Before August 2021, Afghanistan’s economy was 75% dependent on foreign assistance. After the Taliban assumed power, most international assistance was cut off, which caused a drop in purchasing power. The U.S. renewed the blocking of Afghanistan’s central bank’s foreign assets amounting to over $7 billion (Executive Order no. 14064). In April 2022, United Nations (UN) experts called on the U.S. government to unblock foreign assets to ease the humanitarian impact.
In August 2022, 32 Afghan and international NGOs called for a clear roadmap to restore the Afghan central bank’s essential functions and release Afghanistan’s assets frozen abroad. However, Western countries have not been ready to lift sanctions until the Taliban sets up a more diverse government, permits girls to return to secondary school and allows independent control of the Afghan central bank.
A significant development occurred in September 2022 when the U.S. said it will transfer $3.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets into a new Swiss-based trust fund to be used “for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan.” The new trust fund was created after months of talks between the U.S., Switzerland, other parties and the Taliban. No funds will go to the Afghan central bank. The unfreezing of Afghan assets has been called for by humanitarians.
However, the mandate of the Afghan Fund does not include support for humanitarian assistance. In their January 2023 snapshot report of the Afghan economy, ACAPS said the key functions of the fund include price and exchange rate stability, payment of World Bank arrears, representing the Afghan Central Bank (DAB) in court, payment for some critical imports, assessment of the capacity of the DAB, and support to the third-party monitoring of DAB’s anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing systems.
More than one million people were estimated to be without work in August 2022. An FAO household survey released in May 2022 found that 26% of respondents lost employment. Severe cash shortages continue to limit economic activity within banks and local markets. Another alarming statistic is that people’s debts have increased both in terms of the number of people taking on debt (82% of all households) and the amount of debt (about 11% higher than the previous year).
In August 2022, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, then the UN Deputy Special Representative in Afghanistan, who is also the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, said, “Without functional markets, without (an) operating banking sector, without investments in basic-level jobs, we will not be able to reverse the trends which we are observing now in Afghanistan.”
According to UNOCHA, from April 10, 2022 to Sept. 13, 2022, 32,424 individuals fled their homes due to conflict. “Inadequate shelter, food insecurity, insufficient access to sanitation and health facilities, as well as a lack of protection, often result in precarious living conditions that jeopardises the well-being and dignity of affected families.”
In addition to conflict, food security is another contributing factor to displacement. In interviews with the Norwegian Refugee Council, internally displaced persons (IDPs) explained that they would have to leave the country if they could not feed their families. Internal displacement remains on the rise.
As of June 30, 2023, 2,089,990 Afghan refugees were registered in the neighboring countries of Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Of the refugees registered in neighboring countries, more than 1.33 million refugees are in Pakistan.
Between Feb. 12 and Feb. 25, 2023, 2,772 undocumented Afghan nationals spontaneously returned to Afghanistan, including 1,044 through the Torkham border point and 1,728 through the Chaman border point. Iran hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, the majority of whom come from Afghanistan. Around 748,000 registered Afghan refugees and another 2.6 million who are either undocumented or have received a headcount laissez-passer live in Iran.
Making matters worse is Pakistan’s planned expulsion of more than a million “undocumented” foreign nationals after a Nov. 1, 2023, deadline. The UN warned that the expulsion risks triggering a human rights catastrophe. Although Pakistan’s government says they will target anyone who is in the country illegally, in practice, the expulsion mostly affects Afghans because they are the majority of foreigners living in Pakistan.
Aid agencies also warned of dire consequences for returning Afghans who have nowhere to go, and they fear for people’s survival in a country overwhelmed by disasters, decades of war, a struggling economy and a humanitarian crisis. Since Sept. 15, almost 400,000 Afghans have returned to Afghanistan, as of Nov. 23. Most of the returns have taken place through Torkham and Spin Boldak-Chaman borders, although Badini and Ghulam Khan are also being used.
More than 78,000 Afghans were resettled in the U.S. as of March 2022, making this the largest U.S. resettlement effort in decades.
As of Feb. 12, 2023, the U.S. had approved just 4,775 applications from Afghan evacuees who requested asylum or special visa status for those who aided American forces. CBS News reported, “Those who lack permanent legal status could lose their authorization to work and live in the U.S. legally starting in July without congressional intervention.”
However, thousands of Afghan families remain separated, and the U.S. does not have a clear path to reunite them. The United Kingdom has launched three resettlement scheme pathways for Afghans. Afghan refugees in Brazil are in limbo and some consider a dangerous journey to the U.S.
Afghans who have been resettled in the U.S. face a long road ahead. Data released by the International Rescue Committee in August 2022 shows that in their first year of work, newly arrived Afghans would contribute nearly $200 million in taxes and $1.4 billion to the American economy. For those who qualify for a visa to travel from Afghanistan to the U.S., such as the Special Immigrant Visa, the journey can be frustrating due to U.S. government bureaucracy and other barriers.
Earthquakes in October 2023
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake occurred on Oct. 7, 2023, about 25 miles northwest of Herat at shallow depths. This earthquake was followed by a second 6.3-magnitude earthquake about 30 minutes later. Another 6.3-magnitude earthquake shook Herat Province on Oct. 11, 2023.
A spokesman for Afghanistan’s national disaster authority, Janan Sayiq, told reporters on Oct. 9 that around 4,000 people were killed, but other reports say the figure is closer to 2,000. The Oct. 11 earthquake reportedly killed at least two people and injured another 150. As of Nov. 3, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 1,482 deaths. As is often the case after disasters, accurate figures on deaths and injuries are a challenge, particularly in fragile states like Afghanistan.
There was significant impact on buildings, with approximately 48,000 houses destroyed or damaged.
According to the International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies in an operational update published on Nov. 27, “In several affected villages, not a single house remains standing. Thousands of people are living in open space under tents, tarpaulins or other locally made temporary make-shift structures as their houses were destroyed or are afraid of returning home due to frequent aftershocks.”
The earthquakes also caused damage to schools, water systems, healthcare facilities and other critical infrastructure.
The UN Children’s Fund said more than 90% of those who died in the week’s earthquakes were women and children. The UN Population Fund said women and children were disproportionately affected because they were more likely to be at home while men were out of the home working. Women-headed households are particularly vulnerable, with protection concerns and challenges obtaining humanitarian assistance. The Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group in Afghanistan reports that earthquake-affected women say immediate priorities relate to shelter and water, sanitation and hygiene.
The Herat Earthquake Response Plan was released on Oct. 16 and targets approximately 114,000 people living in high-intensity impact areas with a focus on those whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed. The plan says $93.6 million is required to deliver life-saving response activities and support early recovery efforts from October 2023-March 2024. Humanitarian Response Plans articulate the shared vision of how to respond to the assessed and expressed needs of the affected population.
Humanitarians in 2023 faced increased access challenges. According to UNOCHA in their October 2023 humanitarian access snapshot, this was evident in Herat during the earthquake response, “where the De-facto Authorities (DfAs) imposed daily movement approvals through a committee comprising the Ulema Shura and the Department of Economy (DoEc).” Through negotiations, the daily approval system was revoked on Oct. 23, but earthquake-affected populations were impacted.
Due to funding cuts, humanitarians have had to reduce services and aid provision in some parts of the country this year. For example, in August 2023, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that it would stop funding 25 government-run hospitals across the country, including in Herat.
It is unclear whether such cuts will impact the earthquake response and the ability of the humanitarian community to scale up. What is clear is that disaster survivors need assistance in the short term and will require support for longer-term recovery. The ongoing complex humanitarian emergency makes recovering from disasters such as earthquakes harder.
The humanitarian aid system in the country was already overstretched and underfunded, with more than 28 million people in need of assistance. As winter approaches, survival for earthquake-affected communities is a concern. Despite an overstretched system and limited funding, humanitarian partners have begun to reach earthquake-affected communities with assistance in priority need areas.
Earthquakes are among the most devastating natural hazards. Reuters reported that most homes in Afghanistan lack a good foundation and are often poorly constructed, according to a 2021 paper published in the Journal of Disaster Risk Studies. Homes often have heavy roofs that can collapse into the structure, making them vulnerable to seismic activity.
For these reasons, the earthquakes that devastated Herat Province and other natural hazards that Afghanistan faces cannot be called “natural disasters.” While natural hazards, such as earthquakes, are inevitable, their impact on society is not.
Hunger and malnutrition
According to IPC, “Between May and October 2023, a slight seasonal improvement is expected with the number of people in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or above likely decreasing to around 15.3 million, including just under 2.8 million people experiencing Emergency (IPC Phase 4).”
However, due to funding cuts, beginning in July, only five million people will receive emergency food assistance. Nutrition partners reported in June 2023 that due to funding shortfalls, 25 mobile health and nutrition teams in four provinces had been shut down.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a global shortage in cooking oil, and rising fuel prices mean transportation costs are increasing. These impacts are felt in Afghanistan, where the price of wheat went up by an additional 20% following the invasion. Global cereal prices have been trending downward in the first half of 2023, the prices of imported wheat flour to Afghanistan have declined since their peak in June 2022. Although by May 2023 the domestic prices of cooking oil significantly decreased since reaching their peak in July 2022, it remained 21% higher than May 2020 prices.
WFP telephone surveys conducted between January and April 2023 revealed that, “Although there has been a minimal improvement in food consumption over the recent quarter, the vast majority of the population (87 percent) still does not have adequate food consumption and dietary diversity.”
One often overlooked concern is the health of livestock, which are an important source of food and income for many families, including hundreds of thousands of nomadic herders where this is deeply engrained in their culture and who have survived this way for generations. With the drop in temperatures during cooler and winter months, below-average animal fodder, overstretched veterinarians and increased transportation costs, there is a risk of severe loss of livestock.
The government’s Sehatmandi program provides essential primary care services and is the backbone of Afghanistan’s health system. In January 2022, the WHO warned that the country’s health system was nearing collapse.
Since the Taliban gained power in August 2021, significant funding for the program has been withdrawn as donors found it impossible to provide funding through the new regime. Signs of system collapse are emerging, including the severe life-saving medicines shortage in May 2022.
A lack of sufficient funding in 2023 has led to reduced food rations and has negatively impacted the health sector. In their July 2023 Afghanistan humanitarian update, UNOCHA said “262 health facilities have had to discontinue health service provision, impacting access to primary health care services for two million people.”
In addition to these challenges, the Taliban’s ban on women working for NGOs has a direct impact on women and girls’ ability to access and receive health services including sexual and reproductive health services. To meet cultural requirements and expectations, it is critical that women health professionals are able to work and meet the health needs of women and girls in Afghanistan.
According to the 2023 Afghanistan HNO, “Multiple parallel shocks are driving Afghanistan’s health needs and are severely impacting the increasingly strained health systems and services. Chief among these are acute disease outbreaks, including multiple outbreaks of measles, AWD, dengue fever, pertussis, Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) and malaria, and COVID-19 cases continue to be reported.”
A challenge is the ongoing attacks on healthcare in Afghanistan. The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition identified 81 incidents of violence against health care workers or obstruction of health care in Afghanistan in 2022, compared to 107 in 2021. At least 31 health workers were arrested and 26 killed in these incidents. According to WHO, 11 attacks on health care were reported between January and October 2023.
Afghanistan is one of several countries globally experiencing a major ongoing cholera outbreak. In 2022, and as of Sept. 12, a total of 150,278 cases, including 55 deaths, had been reported. The number of cases reported in 2023 has trended upwards through week 29. Between June 10, 2023 and July 9, 2023, more than 23,000 cases were reported, including 16 new deaths.
High disaster risk
On average, 200,000 Afghans are affected by disasters each year. From Jan. 1, 2023 to Oct. 5, 2023, 26,014 people were affected by disasters throughout Afghanistan. During this period, 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces experienced a disaster. Floods are the most commonly recorded natural hazards by far. The Eastern region had the highest number of affected people during the period, with 12,794.
Heavy rainfall the week of July 24, 2023, resulted in deadly flooding in Kabul, Maidan Wardak and Logar provinces in Afghanistan. According to a spokesman for Taliban’s Ministry of Disaster Management, as of July 30, the floods had killed at least 31 people, 41 were missing and another 74 injured.
A 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit Badakhshan Province in northeastern Afghanistan on March 21, 2023. The earthquake combined with underlying vulnerabilities damaged an estimated 200 houses and affected more than 7,000 people. Heavy rains and flash flooding also affected more than 4,500 people in several provinces in spring 2023. Limited funding constrained humanitarians’ ability to scale up assistance.
Significant disasters in 2022 included the following:
- In eastern Afghanistan, flash floods in late August killed at least 20 people in Logar province, with thousands of homes and agricultural land damaged. An elder in the Khushi district of Afghanistan’s Logar province said the flooding was unprecedented.
- On Aug. 14, heavy rains resulted in flash flooding in northern Parwan province, killing at least 31 people. An official said more than 100 homes were partially or completely destroyed.
- A 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan on June 22, killing more than 1,000 people and leaving 362,000 in need of humanitarian assistance. The country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis compounds the earthquake’s impact. A total of $110 million is required to provide humanitarian assistance between July and September 2022. However, through September, less than half of the funding needed had been announced. CDP hosted a webinar on July 7, 2022 to explore the impact of the earthquake and how funders can support immediate and ongoing needs, which still remain. A CDP grant to Concern Worldwide supported the reconstruction of 105 homes and household-level water and sanitation facilities for the most vulnerable families affected by the 2022 earthquake.
- Unseasonal and severe rainfall across the northwest and northern provinces on May 3 led to flash flooding affecting at least 485 families. The flooding killed at least 13 people and damaged more than 1,200 homes. Between Aug. 11-15, flash floods killed at least 41 people in several provinces across the eastern, southern, south-eastern and central regions. The most recent round of flooding destroyed crops, agricultural land and local infrastructure.
In early November 2022, a task team was formed of representatives from UN Agencies, NGOs and Assessment and Analysis team members. The task team provided technical support that resulted in a UNOCHA Earthquake Lessons Learnt Review, which included key findings and recommendations from the June 2022 earthquake.
The review found that the lack of female staff early in the response meant the needs of women and girls were missed in early assessments, demonstrating the critical role women play. While humanitarian partners provided assistance to more than 100,000 people, the specific needs of women and girls could be strengthened, a lesson for future disasters as well as the ongoing crisis.
Droughts are among the most complex and severe climate-related hazards experienced. The country is experiencing ongoing droughts for the second successive year. Near-record low precipitation was observed in several parts of the country during the latest wet season, and wheat production losses in 2022 were significant.
Women and girl’s rights
According to the 2023 Women, Peace and Security Index, Afghanistan ranks worst of 177 countries in terms of the status of women.
“Since 2021, Afghanistan has ranked the worst in the world to be a woman. Afghan women wake up each day to no jobs, no education and no autonomy over their lives. This report should serve as a wakeup call to world leaders that a nation of women is imprisoned,” said Torunn L. Tryggestad, Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Centre for Gender, Peace and Security.
The year 2022 was a challenging one for women’s rights in Afghanistan, which provides the starkest picture of what the total erosion of women’s rights looks like, according to Human Rights Watch.
In November 2022, the Taliban ordered judges in the country to fully impose their interpretation of Sharia Law, which experts fear will lead to a further deterioration of human rights in Afghanistan. Following a visit to the country in November 2022, Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, concluded that “the country continues to experience a serious crisis and urgent action is needed from all parties to avert a further deterioration of the situation.”
In December 2022, the Taliban announced a ban on Afghan women working in NGOs. The Taliban went further in April 2023 when it said Afghan women employed with the UN mission could no longer report for work, prompting the organization to review its presence in the country.
The Spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on April 5, 2023, “The Secretary-General strongly condemns the Taliban’s decision to ban Afghan women from working with the United Nations in Afghanistan. This is a violation of the inalienable fundamental human rights of women.”
Women workers are critical to humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, and the ban has negative consequences. As UN Women survey of humanitarian partners released on Feb. 8, 2023 showed that 93% of organizations saw an increased impact on their access to affected women. As NGOs suspend or scale back their operations, they warn that thousands of Afghans will miss out on lifesaving humanitarian assistance.
In July 2023, the Taliban continued to expand restrictions on women by announcing that beauty salons would be closed. The same month, Tolo News reported the Ministry of Higher Education decided only males would be taking university entrance exams.
Until the ban is reversed, some NGOs are forced to decide whether to continue operations based on assurances from the Taliban or government ministries. Among the ongoing access challenges humanitarians face are operational constraints due to restrictions on women humanitarian workers. According to UNOCHA, 195 incidents of “restrictions on women humanitarian workers’ participation in humanitarian action” had been reported in in 2023 as of the end of October.
Immediate needs during a complex humanitarian emergency include emergency shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene, evacuation support, family reconnection, health care, protection of at-risk populations and case management. These needs will continue through the course of the CHE and into the recovery period.
Food and economic security
The sector with the largest number of people in need and financial requirements in the 2023 HRP is the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC). The HRP has identified 21.2 million people in need and $2.6 billion in financial requirements for this sector alone.
Food consumption and household income are interconnected. As incomes diminish or disappear, a rising proportion of household income is being spent on food, leading to negative coping strategies and leaving little to spare for other essential needs. Emergency food assistance, school feeding and livelihood assistance are ongoing needs.
One often overlooked concern is the health of livestock, which are an important source of food and income for many families. There is a risk of severe loss of livestock.
With the partial collapse of Afghanistan’s health system, there is a need for scaling up health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities.
According to the 2023 Afghanistan HNO, “Availability of reproductive, maternal, new-born and child health services are critical in humanitarian settings that typically see rises in maternal deaths, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, unsafe abortion, and gender-based violence.”
Information and access to quality healthcare, including reproductive services, is needed, particularly for marginalized groups such as women, pregnant women, people with disabilities and older adults. Responding to multiple outbreaks is a critical need, including COVID-19, measles, acute watery diarrhea, dengue fever and malaria.
Repeat disasters also place significant burdens on survivors. Following the October 2023 earthquakes, the UN Population Fund said the deaths of loved ones in the earthquakes took a devastating toll on survivors. One counselor said: “The availability of a psychosocial support counsellor is essential here because there are women who are injured and have lost family members. They need someone to listen to them and help them cope with their trauma.”
According to the 2023 Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP), which focuses on five neighboring countries, “As well as responding to the basic needs of the most vulnerable populations, investments in infrastructure including health, education, and water and energy networks require major attention.”
A large-scale return of Afghans is unlikely in 2023, so the RRP says “support continues to be vital to share responsibility and the cost of hosting refugees with countries who have welcomed Afghans on their territories for decades and whose national systems are under huge strain, particularly in the areas of health and education.”
For Afghan refugees living in the U.S., permanent housing, access to healthcare and livelihood support are ongoing needs.
Children’s access to safe and quality education is an ongoing need. On Sept. 30, 2022, a horrific attack on a learning center in Kabul that students from Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras attend resulted in the deaths of 53 students, mostly young women. Within days of the attack, protests were organized to denounce the attacks and demand the reopening of girls’ high schools in the country.
The week of March 21, 2022, girls aged 11 and older showed up to their schools in anticipation of attending class for the first time since the Taliban seized power. However, they were told secondary schools would remain shut indefinitely. This decision by the Taliban has been met with condemnation internationally.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the Taliban to open schools for all students in the country. Schools return on March 21, 2023, and Save the Children is calling for the ban to be lifted immediately and for girls to have full access to education. “More than 3 million girls who were previously enrolled in secondary school have been denied their right to education since the Taliban takeover.”
According to ACAPS, “Even if schools eventually resume, shortages of funds teachers, and schools; fear, traditional gender norms, and geographical remoteness were already limiting girls’ access to education.”
In July 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council held an urgent debate on the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that since the Taliban took power, women and girls in Afghanistan were experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in the enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades. Millions of Afghan women have been confined to their homes and Afghan girls fear for their future. Despite the challenges and restrictions imposed by the Taliban, including a rise in unofficial suicide figures among females amid severe restrictions on women’s lives, Afghans continue to address the rising educational needs of children in the country, particularly girls.
Gender equity and security
Women and children often face increased risks in CHEs like gender-based exclusion, marginalization and exploitation. According to UN Women, women and girls are seeing a rapid reversal of their rights since the Taliban’s takeover. Afghan women are more likely than men to seek asylum with children, and non-partnered women face additional burdens in finding shelter, safety and resources.
On March 8, 2023, UN experts said, “the situation of women and girls’ rights in Afghanistan has reverted to that of the pre-2002 era when the Taliban last controlled the country, effectively erasing progress on women’s rights in the intervening 20 years.” In addition to calling on the de facto authorities “to end the harmful annihilation of women rights and lift restrictions imposed on women” the experts urged the international community to increase support to Afghan women.
A UNOCHA report released on Sept. 14, 2022, shows how female participation in the humanitarian response has changed for national female staff since the takeover by the Taliban. The report says female humanitarian workers’ “ability to engage safely, meaningfully and comprehensively in humanitarian action has become even more challenging over the past 12 months.”
In June 2022, 25 civil society organizations called for an urgent debate at the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council regarding the women’s rights crisis in Afghanistan. The Interagency Rapid Gender Analysis for Afghanistan humanitarian response was released in November 2022 and aims to better understand the gendered impact of the current humanitarian crisis. Specific groups at-risk include widows and women-headed households, IDPs, women and girls in rural areas, people living with disabilities. The report includes good practices for navigating challenges to gender-responsive humanitarian response in the country.
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises, with support for Afghanistan remaining a top priority of the fund since 2021. CDP also has a Disaster Recovery Fund that provides the chance for donors to meet the needs of those affected by this displacement crisis within the U.S. and territories.
We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
If you are a responding NGO, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.
(Photo: Women walk among makeshift tents in a camp for internally displaced people in Mazar-e Sharif city in northern Afghanistan. Source: UNHCR/Edris Lutfi)
Philanthropic and government support
CDP awarded a $100,000 grant to Concern Worldwide in 2022 through the COVID-19 Recovery Fund to support Afghan communities in strengthening resiliency to withstand the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and recover from the pandemic’s economic impacts by increasing access to water back to pre-pandemic levels. At the project’s completion, water canals were desilted, and new water ponds constructed, which increased water storage options for the communities. The project utilized a cash-for-work strategy, allowing community members to participate in the project and earn income that was critical given high levels of food insecurity in the area.
CDP awarded a $150,000 grant to KIND in 2021 through the Disaster Recovery Fund to expand its capacity to provide legal representation and reunifications for children and their families from Afghanistan and children arriving at the southern border of the U.S.
CDP awarded a $250,000 grant to Save the Children in 2022 through the Global Recovery Fund to provide Afghan and host community children in Pakistan with early childhood social-emotional learning skills to mitigate the impact of trauma caused by forced migration. This pilot project will use Sesame Workshop content and resources and work with TKF, a local Afghan partner.
CDP awarded a $215,000 grant to Miyamoto in 2022 to repair 15 family compounds damaged or destroyed by the June 2022 earthquake in Afghanistan prior to the onset of winter, leading to shelters that are more resilient and better winterized.
CDP awarded a $316,500 grant to Teach for All, in collaboration with Teach for Afghanistan Organization, from the COVID-19 Response Fund to recruit 50 new female teachers for a new cohort over a two year period to provide Afghan children with quality education, teach children important social and emotional learning skills, increase awareness on protection measures for COVID-19 within schools and communities and avoid learning loss due to COVID-related school closures by providing alternate learning opportunities to 15,000 Afghan children.
The Community Sponsorship Hub, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropic Advisors, Inc., is a partner in a joint initiative called The Sponsor Circle Program, which is a community-led resettlement initiative that allows Americans to help welcome an Afghan newcomer to their communities.
On the day the appeal for $4.4 billion to support the 2022 Afghanistan HRP was announced, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said, “This is the largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance and it is three times the amount needed, and actually fundraised in 2021.” As of Nov. 28, donors had funded just 39.5% of the $4.6 billion requested in the 2023 HRP.
The 2023 Afghanistan HRP requests $4.6 billion to reach 23.7 million people. A massive two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population will need humanitarian assistance in 2023 “as the country enters its third consecutive year of drought-like conditions and the second year of crippling economic decline” while still dealing with the after-effects of decades of conflict and recurrent disasters. As of July 31, donors had funded just 23.1% of the $4.6 billion requested in the 2023 HRP.
On Sept. 23, 2022, the U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State, announced nearly $327 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. Since August 2021, the U.S. has provided more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance for the country.
More ways to help
As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.
Donors can help in the following ways:
- Provide unrestricted core funding for vetted humanitarian NGO partners that support the 2023 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). This is an efficient way to ensure the best use of resources in a coordinated manner. Funding the NGOs that have contributed to the HRP ensures that resources are directed to support the national sector-wide agreed-upon priorities decided on using humanitarian partners’ on the ground best knowledge.
- Prioritize investments in local organizations: Local humanitarian leaders and organizations play a vital role in providing immediate relief and setting the course for long-term equitable recovery in communities after a disaster or throughout a complex humanitarian crisis. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible. This can be challenging and complex to navigate in Afghanistan due to finance restrictions and sanctions, so when granting to trusted international partners with deep roots in targeted countries, more consideration should be given to those that have established equitable partnerships with and empower local and national stakeholders.
- Fund programs in Afghan refugee hosting countries. If considering this in the U.S., support the refugee resettlement agencies that work in coordination with the federal government to determine where refugees are settled here, depending on U.S. ties, and agency and community capacity. A quick expansion of capacity to do the work requires flexible and rapid funding.
- At a local domestic level, support housing, employment, medical assistance, assistance with school enrollment and other programs. Again, flexible funding allows for directing funding toward the most critical needs.
Complex Humanitarian Emergencies
CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.
The Latin root of “resilience” means to bounce back, but every field has its own definition and most individuals within each discipline will define it differently. Learn more.
It is commonly acknowledged that all disasters start and end locally. Though there is no single definition, localization is a process of recognizing, respecting and strengthening the leadership by local authorities and the capacity of local civil society in humanitarian action to better address the needs of affected populations and to prepare for future humanitarian responses.