Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis with a very real risk of systemic collapse and human catastrophe and this humanitarian crisis is reversing many of the gains of the last 20 years, including around women’s rights, according to a new analysis.
Afghanistan’s population was estimated to pass 43 million in 2022, with 49 per cent women and girls, and one of the highest youth populations in the world, with 47 per cent of the population under 15 years old. This comes up in the document is consolidated by OCHA on behalf of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and partners.
The population is expected to grow at 2.3 per cent per annum, one of the steepest rates in the region, and so the intertwined environmental, economic and protection crises, particularly for girls, will have a far-reaching and potentially catastrophic impact far into the future.
The document states that a staggering 28.3 million people (two thirds of Afghanistan’s population) will need urgent humanitarian assistance In 2023 in order to survive as the country enters its third consecutive year of drought-like conditions and the second year of crippling economic decline. High levels of unemployment and sustained inflation of key commodity prices have caused the average household’s debt to increase, challenging people’s coping mechanisms and thwarting the already fragile economy’s ability to adapt to shocks, the document said.
Though humanitarian needs have been largely driven by conflict While in previous years, the key drivers of humanitarian need in 2023 are multidimensional: drought, climate change, protection threats, particularly for women and girls, and the economic crisis.
The document mentions that conflict, natural disasters, the lingering effects of war, and recent large-scale conflict displacement continue to prevent people from building resilience and moving towards recovery and solutions. In 2022 there was a change in the drivers of humanitarian needs, as household shocks shifted from COVID-19 and conflict in 2021, to drought, climate change and economic shocks.
Afghanistan’s economic crisis is widespread, with more than half of households experiencing an economic shock in the last six months. The economy immediately went into free-fall, with the disruption to markets, financial and trade mechanisms, the freezing of US$9.5 billion in central bank reserves, loans and the sudden suspension of direct development aid.
Within this reality, 17 million people face acute hunger in 2023, including 6 million people at emergency levels of food insecurity, one step away from famine – and one of the highest figures worldwide. Deterioration is expected in the first quarter of 2023 due to the simultaneous effects of winter and the lean season, sustained high food prices, reduced income and unemployment and continued economic decline.
Afghanistan is highly prone to natural hazards, whose frequency and intensity are exacerbated by the effects of climate change, increasing humanitarian needs and structural limitations in mitigating disaster impact. The number of atypical sudden-onset disasters, such as floods and earthquakes, was higher in 2022 than preceding years and the scenario anticipates that these patterns may be the norm moving ahead.
Severe needs from drought have reached a crisis point. As of December 2022, Afghanistan was experiencing the first triple-dip impact of La Niña globally since 1998-2001, which was also a period of multi-year drought and high levels of food insecurity in Afghanistan. The forecast is at least a 50 per cent chance of La Niña continuing from January to March 2023 before returning to ENSO neutral. The 2022 Whole of Afghanistan Assessment (WoAA) identified drought as the most frequently reported shock experienced in the six months prior to data collection, and the prolonged drought is resulting in the drying of surface water sources such as springs, and a significant drop in groundwater levels. As a result of the ongoing drought event and water crisis, the proportion of households experiencing barriers to accessing water rose from 48 per cent in 2021 to 60 per cent in 2022.
The other main driver of humanitarian need is the traditional gender norms and patriarchal culture which have long reinforced discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan, increasing their vulnerability and decreasing their capacity to recover from shocks, and leaving them disproportionately affected during crises. Multiple studies show that Afghanistan is the worst place in the world to be a woman or girl, with the situation only deteriorating since the takeover by the Taliban which continues to fully curtail women and girls’ rights. The curtailment of Afghan women’s enjoyment of their rights is uniquely severe. Restrictions targeting women and girls impact many areas of their lives, limiting their freedom of movement and their access to essential services and livelihoods, with negative economic, social, physical and psychological consequences.
Within the broader humanitarian access environment, participation in the humanitarian response has deteriorated for Afghan women staff since August 2021. Amid a growing set of restrictions curtailing their basic rights and freedoms, women humanitarian workers face increasingly restrictive challenges affecting their ability to travel to beneficiaries. The 24 December 2022 directive barring women from working for national or international NGOs will have a devastating humanitarian impact on millions of people across the country and will prevent millions of vulnerable women and girls from receiving services and life-saving assistance.