Last August, the world’s eyes were on Afghanistan. Amid dramatic scenes at Kabul airport, people rushed to flee. Today, the global spotlight has shifted elsewhere, but millions of Afghans face a humanitarian crisis.
UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, continues to focus on supporting millions of Afghans facing conflict and displacement. But international organizations, including the UN, need more funds to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people.
Here are five things you should know about Afghanistan and how we’re trying to help:
1. Afghans are one of the world’s largest populations displaced by conflict and human rights violations.
Afghans have fled their country since 1979. Although many have returned, 2.3 million Afghans are registered as refugees in the region, mainly in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. An additional 180,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in the region since early 2021.
In addition, 3.5 million Afghans have been displaced within their country as a result of conflict, including more than 800,000 who have fled since January 2021 – the majority due to fighting that took place between May and August 2021.
Security has improved in parts of Afghanistan and many people have been able to return home in the past year. But often when they return, they find damaged or destroyed homes, war-torn infrastructure and a lack of jobs. Meanwhile, some areas have witnessed violence and new displacement. An earthquake in June in the south-east of the country, followed by several aftershocks, left many homeless.
What UNHCR does: by 2021 we have helped 1.1 million people, mainly with winter support such as shelter materials, blankets and fuel for cooking. We have also supported neighboring countries to help Afghan refugees. For those who have chosen to return, we have provided cash assistance to repair or rebuild them and support projects. So far in 2022, we have provided cash and other assistance to 560,000 people. In addition, 2.5 million Afghans have benefited from our infrastructure projects such as schools, community centers, water systems and health centers.
2. Half of the population of Afghanistan suffers from extreme hunger.
Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed in the past year. The combination of prolonged drought, rising food prices and job losses has pushed some 25 million Afghans into poverty, with more than half the population now dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Foreign development aid has come to a standstill.
Three quarters of people’s income is now spent on food. Six million people teeter on the brink of famine, and 1 million children suffer from severe malnutrition.
A widespread hunger crisis was averted last winter, but food prices continue to rise – partly as a result of the war in Ukraine – while household incomes continue to shrink.
What UNHCR does: Improvements in the security environment have allowed us to expand our presence into areas of the country that we had not had access to for decades, and we now operate from nine offices across the country. So far in 2022, we have supported 300,000 people with cash benefits to meet their basic needs. cash for workroad building and canal clearing programs provide income for 4,000 workers and support around 28,000 family members.
3. The climate crisis worsens the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Climate change is leading to increasingly frequent, more intense natural disasters affecting communities already devastated by conflict. Even before the return of the Taliban, a severe drought had withered crops and lowered groundwater levels. The drought lasted into 2022 and was accompanied by a heat wave so severe that several wildfires started in the eastern part of the country. Then unusually heavy summer rains and floods hit many parts of Afghanistan, inundating villages and damaging homes, roads and farmland.
More than 1.5 million Afghans have been displaced by such disasters, in addition to the 3.5 million displaced by conflict.
What UNHCR does: In the wake of natural disasters such as the earthquake in June, UNHCR supplies tents, household items, hygiene items and solar lamps. We plan to build 2,300 earthquake-resistant homes in the two provinces most affected by the earthquake.
4. Afghan women and girls have seen their rights disappear.
Several measures taken in the past year suppress the hopes and dreams of half the population.
Most high schools for girls remain closed and many women have lost their jobs, while others do not have a required male guardian to accompany them when they leave their homes. As many women are no longer able to earn a living, families are further impoverished and young girls are forced into marriage.
What UNHCR does: We have built a number of empowerment centers where women can take computer and programming courses or receive training and support to run businesses. We also run livelihood projects across the country such as mobile bakeries, tailoring training and poultry projects that lift female-headed households out of poverty.
5. Humanitarian organizations trying to alleviate suffering in Afghanistan lack financial resources.
A coordinated effort by the United Nations – including UNHCR – provided humanitarian aid to nearly 23 million people over the past year, including food, shelter, cash and household items, and helped prevent a famine last winter.
Despite these efforts, more than half of the population (approximately 24.4 million people) remains in need. Among them are displaced persons, many of whom live in deplorable conditions in temporary settlements. With sub-zero winter temperatures in a few months, needs are likely to continue to grow.
The United Nations has so far received only about 41 percent of the funding needed for humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan this year, leaving a critical gap of more than $2.4 billion.
UNHCR also still needs an additional $229.7 million to carry out its work in Afghanistan and for Afghan refugees in neighboring countries.
More humanitarian aid is urgently needed to help Afghans survive the coming winter, but only a functioning economy, security and the restoration of women’s and girls’ human rights will enable them to further rebuild the country.
What UNHCR does: UNHCR has been in Afghanistan for the past year and continues to provide life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable Afghan people forced to flee, as well as to returnees and their host communities.