The Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan: 5 Things to Know

August 24, 2021
Photo by Stefanie Glinski / Concern Worldwide

1. This is just the latest in a string of developments

Long before Afghanistan returned to the current news cycle,  over 18 million people  in the country required humanitarian assistance — including more than 3 million children at risk of acute malnutrition — due largely to conflict and climate change. This represents a doubling of the number of people who required assistance in January, 2020. 

Afghanistan is the site of a decades-long complex crisis, one that has been fueled in part by conflict, as well as increasing effects of climate change, and deepening levels of poverty passed on from one generation to the next. 

2. Displacement is one of the big maintainers of crisis 

Today, one in ten refugees is Afghan by birth. Internal displacement is also a major factor here, with many people arriving in Kabul and other large cities in search of safety from conflict and other threats, including flooding and drought. 

Since the end of May 2020, the number of people displaced because of conflict more than doubled, totaling 550,000 and driving an immediate surge in urgent humanitarian needs. Additionally, 735,000 people have returned to the country from Iran, Pakistan, and other host communities, and are likewise in urgent need of assistance as they rebuild their lives and livelihoods once again. 

3. The country is hit hard by climate change…

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is expected to deteriorate further in the second half of the year due to drought. Some 12.2 million people are already acutely food-insecure, and the majority of those will be further affected by the latest in a series of droughts. The 2021 drought comes while many Afghans are still recovering from the effects of a 2018 drought, which left many farmers and pastoralists displaced and/or selling off livestock and assets (often at a loss) in order to survive.  

This year, a below-average wheat harvest is expected, and livestock yield is also expected to be weak due to poor pastures and feed availability. Between security concerns and this climate shock, agricultural labor activities are estimated to have been reduced by 28% this year alone. With a small margin for error, this is a significant loss. 

4. …which is also creating high amounts of food insecurity

Of course, the drop in agricultural production also has an effect on food security and nutrition for Afghans. This has a disproportionate effect on Afghanistan’s youngest population: According to estimates, the rates of severe acute malnutrition and of moderate acute malnutrition in Afghan children have increased by 16% and 11%, respectively. This means 900,000 more children suffering from the former, and 3.1 million children from the latter. 

Inflation has led to higher prices for food commodities, including temporary inflation rates that are associated with conflict-related movement restrictions. The costs of wheat, rice, sugar, and cooking oil have all increased by more than 50% compared to pre-COVID-19 prices. 

5. Aid is now more vital than ever 

Humanitarian needs don’t wait for a political settlement. Hunger kills and disease spreads,  no matter who is in power. As the political context in Afghanistan shifts, its humanitarian crisis deepens.    It’s critical to remember that principled, accountable, properly-targeted humanitarian assistance can be delivered in Afghanistan — and has been for many years. 

While the world waits, observes, and adjusts to the new reality, millions of people are in need of essential services, protection, and seeds ahead of the critical winter planting season. What they need most of all is the reassurance that the international community will not withdraw funding or abandon them.  

Photo: Stefanie Glinski / Concern Worldwide

Concern in Afghanistan: Stay and deliver

Concern has operated in Afghanistan since 1998, and our work goes on — even under changing circumstances. 

Concern has years of experience in complex contexts and will again draw on it to ensure our staff and the communities we work with  are  protected and that, as an organization, we do no harm in our efforts to stay and deliver.  As long as our staff and facilities are safe and secure, we remain committed to reaching those left furthest behind. 

Emergency Response

Concern’s emergency program targets vulnerable communities  and responds to the needs of those affected by conflict and/or natural disasters, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.  The program addresses immediate needs of vulnerable families through the provision of essential non-food items (NFIs), cash transfers, and emergency shelter. We provide cash assistance for both emergency shelter upgrade and repairs, as well as activities that are geared to help families prepare for facing harsh winter conditions. These shelters provide safe, dignified housing solutions and protect internally-displaced people, refugees, returnees, and non-displaced conflict-affected men, women, and children from the cold. NFI kits  provide  people with  in-kind winter clothing kits and blanket packages, combined with cash assistance for heating  and  fuel. 

Food security and Livelihoods

Concern’s program supports extremely poor and vulnerable communities in Afghanistan  to build food security and sustainable livelihoods. In 2020, we strengthened the livelihoods of more than 8,000 people and provided agricultural support to nearly 3,500 farmers. Program activities have directly contributed to boosting  agricultural, and livestock productivity,  and improved integrated watershed management for sustained agricultural production. Additionally, in communities that are acutely food insecure, Concern  provides  cash and food assistance  to  vulnerable households. 

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)

In 2020,  Concern’s  WASH program in Afghanistan focused on reducing waterborne illnesses and improving water and sanitation infrastructure. We reached more than 4,500 community members, while also distributing safe drinking water to 2,500. 

Disaster Risk Reduction 

In 2020, we reached more than 40,000 people with community-based interventions designed to reduce risks to man made and natural hazards. We work with communities to help them understand how climate change and disaster hazards impact their livelihoods, while finding sustainable ways to reduce their impact.

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Afghanistan Crisis Explained