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).
The humanitarian situation has worsened in the months since the withdrawal, with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) projecting that by the middle of 2022, Afghanistan could face “universal poverty,” with 97% of Afghans living below the World Bank-designated international poverty line of $1.90 a day.
Decades of war, recurring natural hazards, chronic poverty, drought, widespread food insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in millions of Afghans in need of humanitarian assistance – more than half the country’s population.
(Photo: Afghan refugees in Iran. Source: EU/ECHO Pierre Prakash via Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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.
The most at-risk populations, according to the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), include the urban poor, minority groups, undocumented recent returnees, children, the elderly, households headed by women, people with disabilities, marginalized ethnic groups and those exposed to forced, multiple and often extended periods of displacement.
- 24.4 million people will be in humanitarian need in 2022, more than half the country’s population.
- Afghanistan now has the highest number of people in emergency food insecurity globally.
- Around 9.6 million children are unable to secure food daily.
- In February 2022, prices for several key commodities in Afghanistan were about 40% higher than in June 2021.
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.
According to a WFP survey, 81% of income-earning households experienced a significant decrease in income in January 2022.
A displacement crisis
Conflict in 2021 forced more than 700,000 people in Afghanistan to flee their homes, 59% of whom were children. A total of 33 out of 34 provinces in Afghanistan recorded forced displacement last year. These numbers do not include people displaced by environmental disasters, which affect an average of 200,000 people in Afghanistan each year.
As of March 31, 2,069,703 Afghan refugees were registered in the neighboring countries of Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. More than 1.2 million refugees are in Pakistan. In August 2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a non-return advisory for Afghanistan, “calling for a halt on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected.”
More than 78,000 Afghans have been resettled in the U.S. in recent months, making this the largest U.S. resettlement effort in decades. On March 16, the government announced that Afghans already in the U.S. would receive temporary protected status, allowing them to stay in the country for at least 18 months.
A hunger and malnutrition crisis
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), over half of Afghanistan’s population of 40 million is facing acute food insecurity, which is the highest number that humanitarians have ever seen in the country. In 2022, WFP plans to reach more people than any previous year, demonstrating the hunger crisis’s speed and scale of need.
According to a World Bank survey from late 2021, 70% of households could not cover basic food needs, up from 35% in May 2021. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 3.2 million children will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2022. A million severely malnourished children are at risk of death.
A collapsing economy and drought have resulted in nearly 20 million Afghans facing crisis or emergency food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or 4) between March and May 2022 (the lean season). While harvests will allow a minimal improvement in food access, it is estimated that between June and November 2022, 19.7 million people will face acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and above). For the first time since the introduction of the IPC in Afghanistan in 2011, a small pocket of “catastrophic” levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 5) has been detected in the country.
According to a WFP survey in February, 95% of people in Afghanistan face insufficient food consumption, including nearly 100% of female-headed households. These are alarming figures, and the WFP says there are no signs of improvement. In the same update, WFP reported households of people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted. Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the country, including Médecins Sans Frontières, report high levels of malnourishment. According to Save the Children, the rising cost of food in Afghanistan meant many families and their children were only surviving on bread and water this Ramadan.
Prices of main food items in the first week of May are significantly higher than in June 2021 before the political change in the country. A lack of Afghani cash in the market is impacting functionality. Reduced income, lower remittances and continuing obstacles to humanitarian assistance are expected to contribute to the deterioration of food security.
A WFP spokesperson warned on March 18 that the ripple effect of Russia’s war in Ukraine is that food and fuel prices in Afghanistan will increase further. There is food in some markets, but people do not have money to purchase the food. The WFP spokesperson said 80% of Afghans are in debt because they have had to borrow to pay for food or medicines. According to analysis by Save the Children, up to 121,000 children in Afghanistan may have been exchanged for debt since August 2021.
A health care crisis
The government’s Sehatmandi program provides essential primary care services and is the backbone of Afghanistan’s health system. In January 2022, the World Health Organization (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.
As of April 13, WHO reported sustaining the functionality of 108 health facilities across 34 provinces, including 96 hospitals under the Sehatmandi program. Funding for sustaining health service delivery remains a challenge. According to WHO, more than 1,200 health facilities and more than 11,000 health workers are not covered by current support.
Additionally, the country faces multiple outbreaks, including COVID-19, measles, acute watery diarrhea, dengue fever and malaria. A significant increase in measles cases compounds the nutrition situation in the country. Of the reported measles cases, 80% were among children under five.
From Jan. 3, 2020, to May 10, 2022, 179,010 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 7,685 deaths were reported to WHO. As of May 10, only 13.36% of the country’s population had been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19.
In January and February 2022, there were four reported attacks on health care personnel in Afghanistan, with nine health care providers killed in total.
A natural hazards crisis
On average, 200,000 Afghans are affected by disasters each year.
From Jan. 4, 2022, to April 18, 2022, 30,697 people were affected by disasters throughout Afghanistan.
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.
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 people in need and financial requirements in the 2022 HRP is the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC). The HRP has identified 24 million people in need and $2.66 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 in five households reported receiving humanitarian food assistance in March 2022, mainly from UN agencies and NGOs, a notable increase from previous months.
The 2022 Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP), which focuses on Afghanistan’s five neighboring countries, has identified four priorities: ensure coordinated efforts and support towards durable solutions, support host governments to ensure access to asylum and protection, provide multisectoral humanitarian assistance to targeted populations, emergency preparedness and response to respond to potential new arrivals.
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. The week of March 21, 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.
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.”
The Gender Cluster said as of April 16, eight provinces continued providing secondary education for girls, however, they reported that the picture is mixed with girls only returning in a few districts. The ban is directly affecting 1.1 million secondary school 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.
More than 3 million women and girls live in provinces without full agreements for women humanitarian workers to operate. Protection and access to services for women and children remain ongoing needs.
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. CDP also has a Disaster Recovery Fund that provides the chance for donors to meet the needs of those affected by this displacement crisis in 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 or a donor, 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)
If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help with disaster recovery, please email Regine A. Webster.
Philanthropic and government support
CDP awarded a $150,000 grant to KIND 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.
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.
The country’s 2022 HRP requested $4.4 billion to reach 22.1 million people in need “due to the consequences of decades of conflict, recurrent natural disasters, lack of recovery from past disasters and the added shock from the takeover of the government, subsequent sudden pause in international assistance and resulting economic shocks.”
On the day the appeal for $4.4 billion 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.”
This appeal is in addition to the $623 million requested by UNHCR to support refugees and host communities in five neighboring countries for the 2022 Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan.
Only 17.4% of the $4.4 billion requested in the 2022 HRP is currently funded. The largest sources of response plan funding are the U.S. ($420.9 million), the U.K. ($112.4 million) and the Asian Development Bank ($65 million).
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched a High-level Pledging Event on March 31 that aimed to increase funding for Afghanistan from international donors. In calling the international community to action, Guterres said, “Wealthy, powerful countries cannot ignore the consequences of their decisions on the most vulnerable.” According to UN officials, donor countries pledged only $2.44 billion towards the $4.4 billion appeal.
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 2022 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 plan and use humanitarian partners’ best knowledge.
- Support the nine 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.
In the immediate wake of a natural disaster, feeding and sheltering are two of the major issues that are addressed immediately following evacuation or search and rescue operations. These are core elements of survival and are an important area for government and nongovernmental responders.
Drought is often defined as an unusual period of drier than normal weather that leads to a water shortage. Drought causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other disaster.