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Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisis

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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). One year after the withdrawal, enormous humanitarian needs remain.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) projected 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.

According to Human Rights Watch, since capturing Kabul in August 2021, “Taliban authorities have imposed severe restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights, suppressed the media, and arbitrarily detained, tortured, and summarily executed critics and perceived opponents, among other abuses.”

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 a November 2022 speech to ambassadors in New York, Csaba Kőrösi, President of the UN General Assembly, said, “Organized crime and terrorist organizations are thriving once again. Afghanistan is facing complex and interlinked challenges that the Taliban have shown they cannot – or would not – solve.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “Record high access constraints and operational challenges observed in October 2022, with 184 access incidents reported resulting in the temporary suspension of 91 Programs reported by humanitarian partners.”

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Key facts
  • 24.4 million people will be in humanitarian need in 2022, more than half the country’s population. Between January and August 2022, humanitarian partners reached nearly 25 million people with at least one form of humanitarian assistance. However, millions of people who received one form of aid will continue to need multiple rounds of support throughout the year to survive.
  • 89% of the population faces insufficient food consumption. Female-headed households are especially vulnerable and are spending 95% of their income on food, compared to 91% in male-headed households.
  • According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the country faces its most serious risk of famine in 20 years. With another harsh winter fast approaching, additional funding is required to provide adequate food and nutritional assistance.
  • 362,000 people need humanitarian assistance following the June 2022 earthquake that hit Paktika and Khost provinces. As of Sept. 29, 515,000 earthquake-affected people had been reached with humanitarian assistance. However, as of this date, less than half of the funding required has been announced.
An economic crisis

Decades of conflict and severe drought contributed to Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, but economic shocks are a primary driver of the deteriorating situation. When the Taliban assumed power in August 2021, the country was already facing 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.

Increasing food prices have made hunger a danger for many Afghans who had been leading relatively comfortable lives a year ago. The price of wheat flour, wheat grain and rice remains significantly higher than in 2021 and the two-year average. Additionally, fertilizers prices are much higher than in 2021 and the two-year average, which will limit farmers access and negatively impact next year’s agriculture production.

The La Niña phenomenon is forecast to continue at least until spring 2023. With most of Afghanistan currently under drier than usual conditions, further shortage of rainfall may put additional stress on water resources.

More than one million people are estimated to be without work. 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.

In August 2022, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, 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.”

In their September 2022 report about the risk in the country, ACAPS said, “A drastic decrease in purchasing power severely affects the ability of the poor, specifically the urban poor, to address basic needs and access goods and services.” The anticipated impact of a decrease in purchasing power would be further increased debt and the use of extreme coping mechanisms.

Source: ACAPS
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 disasters, which affect an average of 200,000 people in Afghanistan each year. Flooding and landslides in August 2022 displaced at least 8,000 people.

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.

Source: UNHCR

As of June 30, 2022, 2,073,809 Afghan refugees were registered in the neighboring countries of Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Of the refugees registered in neighboring countries, more than 1.2 million refugees are in Pakistan. Between Oct. 8 and Oct. 21, 3,054 undocumented Afghan migrants spontaneously returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan, including 391 through the Torkham border point and 2,663 through the Chaman border point.

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.” Yet, UNHCR says between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2022, 3,677 registered Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan. The International Organization for Migration also observed nearly 60,000 undocumented Afghan returnees at the Torkham and Chaman border points in 2022.

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. 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. The U.S. government is rejecting over 90% of Afghans seeking to enter the country on humanitarian grounds. 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 will contribute nearly $200 million in taxes and $1.4 billion to the American economy.

A hunger and malnutrition crisis

Economic decline, drought and high food prices have resulted in 18.9 million people, 45% of the population, projected to be facing crisis or emergency food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or 4) from June 2022 to November 2022. The WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have warned that Afghanistan is one of six countries where humanitarian actions are critical to preventing starvation and death. Afghanistan continues to face alarming levels of hunger with nine in ten households continuing to face insufficient food consumption. The WFP says the country faces its most serious risk of famine in 20 years.

Although the WFP reported in their June update that severe food insecurity levels dropped slightly in the previous month, six out of ten families are resorting to crisis coping strategies. An FAO household survey released in May found, “The six most frequently cited shocks were associated with agricultural activity and almost all surveyed households faced shocks.”

Source: IPC

According to WFP, 89% of the population faces insufficient food consumption. Female-headed households are especially vulnerable and are spending 95% of their income on food, compared to 91% in male-headed households. Female household heads are also twice as likely than males to sacrifice their own meals so that their family can eat.

Source: WFP

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.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has 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.

FEWS NET’s forward-looking analysis of projected emergency food assistance needs for Afghanistan found that crisis outcomes (IPC Phase 3) are likely to re-emerge in January 2023 in worse-affected areas, and needs will be slightly higher than last year, considering consecutive poor production seasons. At the national level, this year’s wheat harvest is likely below average, with northern and northeastern areas expected to experience the most significant deficits.

As winter approaches, one often overlooked concern is the health of livestock, which are an important source of food and income for many families. With the drop in temperatures, below-average animal fodder, overstretched veterinarians and increased transportation costs, there is a risk of severe loss of livestock.

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. Another challenge is the ongoing attacks on healthcare in Afghanistan. Between January and September 2022, seven incidents in six provinces were reported that affected two healthcare facilities and 17 providers.

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. In 2022, an upward tick in measles cases was observed weekly until the 15th week and has decreased each week since. From Jan. 1 to Nov. 5, 2022, there were 5,463 lab-confirmed measles cases in the country. The most affected provinces are Badakhshan (11.9%), Kabul (10.2%), Nangarhar (9.9%), Kunduz (7.8%), Helmand (7.6%), Takhar (5.4%) and Hirat (5.0%).

Source: WHO

From Feb. 24 2020 to Nov. 5, 2022, 203,732 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 7,826 deaths were reported to WHO. As of Nov. 5, just 26.7% of the total population were fully vaccinated.

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, have been reported.

A natural hazards crisis

On average, 200,000 Afghans are affected by disasters each year. From Jan. 2 to Aug. 26, 2022, 223,365 people were affected by natural disasters throughout Afghanistan. During this period, 33 out of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces experienced a disaster.

Should a sudden-onset disaster occur during this winter, the usual challenges, including a lack of access, could delay the provision of assistance and increase the risk of death after hazards. According to ACAPS, “The reduced prepositioning of emergency response supplies, weakened national response mechanisms, reduced spare capacity in the international humanitarian system, and lower resilience within communities leave people much more vulnerable to the primary and secondary effects of a sudden-onset disaster.”

Significant disasters in 2022 include the following:

  • In eastern Afghanistan, flash floods in late August 2022 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, 2022, 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 2022, 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.
  • 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.

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 have been significant.

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.

As winter approaches, 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.

Public health

With the partial collapse of Afghanistan’s health system, there is a need for scaling up health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities.

Among those affected by the June 2022 earthquake are nearly 20,000 women of childbearing age, including an estimated 2,000 who are currently pregnant. Women need sustained access to life-saving reproductive health services. The emergency earthquake response plan requests $6 million to reach 362,000 people with health services.

Funding shortfalls, import and transport delays, market availability, and liquidity challenges have contributed to the increased possibility of a break in the pipeline for some WASH supplies.

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.

Mental health
Displaced people have undergone a significant change in their way of life, perhaps including loss of livelihood, extreme poverty and damaged social support structure. Because of the ongoing conflict, they also may have post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to a September 2021 study, “the mental health needs will further increase due to the political, humanitarian and COVID-19 crises. An estimated half the population has dealt with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress, and inter-generational trauma is likely to further increase future needs.”
About 13% of women fleeing to Pakistan in 2021 noted needing support related to traumatic events and requiring access to psycho-social support.
Refugees

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.

Education
Children’s access to safe and quality education is an ongoing need. On Sept. 30, 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, 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.

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. According to an analysis by UNICEF, keeping girls out of secondary school costs Afghanistan 2.5% of its annual Gross Domestic Product.

In July, 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. Despite the challenges and restrictions imposed by the Taliban, 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.

More than 3 million women and girls live in provinces without full agreements for women humanitarian workers to operate. In a survey conducted by UN Women and UNHCR, 62% of respondents indicated not knowing how to report instances of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. Protection and access to services for women and children remain ongoing needs.

A UNOCHA report released on Sept. 14 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.

Afghan women walking among tents

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.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, please contact development.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Recovery updates

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)

Donor recommendations

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 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.

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.” As of Nov. 16, donors had funded  54.1% of the $4.4 billion requested in the 2022 HRP is currently funded.

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.

Source: UNOCHA

On Sept. 23, 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.

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.
  • 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 crisis. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible. When granting to trusted international partners with deep roots in targeted countries, more consideration should be given to those that empower local and national stakeholders.
  • 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.

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