More than 45 years of conflict in Afghanistan have gradually worn down the coping mechanisms and resilience of millions — and that was before August 2021. During the Taliban De-Facto Authorities government transition, Concern warned of an impending humanitarian catastrophe, with then-Concern Worldwide CEO Dominic MacSorley saying: “Even before the recent unprecedented change in context across the country, 18.4 million people were depending on humanitarian assistance.” Since then, many governments and international NGOs have suspended aid to the country. 

At the same time, humanitarian need has increased by nearly 29%, with 23.7 million Afghans requiring humanitarian assistance. As UNOCHA reports in its 2024 Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan for Afghanistan: “The effects of political transition, economic contraction, and diminished development assistance have amplified protection risks and humanitarian needs.” The situation became even more dire at the end of last year, when the Pakistani government set into motion plans to repatriate over 1 million Afghan refugees. 

As the crisis continues to deepen, so do the stakes for tens of millions of people. Here’s what you need to know about the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan in 2024.

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1. Humanitarian need in Afghanistan is pushing record levels

Afghanistan is the site of a decades-long complex crisis that originated in part through the Soviet-Afghan War, a protracted conflict that stretched from 1979 to 1989, as well as the 20-year American occupation of the country between 2001 and 2021. Conflict, violence, and political instability have driven deepening levels of poverty passed on from one generation to the next — a vulnerability that has become amplified in recent years due to the increasing effects of climate change in the country. 80% of Afghan families live on less than $1 per day per family member, and 50% of the country currently lives below the poverty line. 

“It is hard to put into words the extent of the daily struggle faced by so many Afghan families. But the numbers tell their own story,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, the Head and Representative of UNOCHA and Director of its Coordination Division, in a December 2023 briefing to the UN Security Council. Afghanistan entered 2024 with more than 29 million people in need of humanitarian assistance — an annual increase of 1 million, and a 340% increase over the last five years.

Humanitarian need in Afghanistan has increased by 340% over the last five years.

2. The situation is getting dire for many Afghan refugees

Refugees from Afghanistan represent a multi-generational displacement crisis, and one that’s grown significantly in the last few years. In 2021, one out of every ten refugees in the world is Afghan by birth. By the end of 2023, one out of every six refugees comes from Afghanistan. This equals roughly 6.1 million Afghan refugees. 

Tens of thousands of these refugees faced a further complication in the final months of 2023, when the Pakistani government — one of the largest host countries for Afghan refugees — ordered the forced repatriation of those who were undocumented, a decision that affected approximately 1 million people. This includes people who were born in Pakistan to displaced families. As of mid-November last year, the UNHCR estimated that approximately 350,000 Afghans had returned “home,” while reports from the beginning of 2024 now place that estimate closer to 500,000. 

For comparison, fewer than 6,500 Afghans had returned home in 2022. This sudden influx has left many families newly-arrived in Afghanistan struggling to find housing (especially before the harsh winter months) and work. One arrival described his precarious situation to the UNHCR: “My father went as a refugee to Pakistan and started from zero, just as we are doing now.”

3. Afghan women and girls are bearing the brunt of this crisis

Since August 2021, over 40 directives have undone the gains made by women and girls in Afghanistan. These laws have restricted movement and, per the UN, “limited their involvement in life outside the home,” particularly in terms of cutting girls’ access to education and women’s chances for employment. The education restrictions have left only 3% of girls receiving a secondary education. 

This has led to an increase in rates of gender-based violence, particularly forced marriage. UNOCHA reports that the number of women and girls at heightened risk of GBV rose by 30% in 2023, from 10.1 million to 13.1 million, following bans that have restricted their access to humanitarian aid and other essential services. Child marriage rates are currently at 39% — meaning that nearly two out of every five Afghan girls will be married before theri 18th birthday. In tandem with this, 60% of families surveyed by OCHA reported at least one member of their household has experienced psychological distress.

Many of those facing this distress are also women, particularly those left to be the head of their households. Women-led households face greater challenges to get their basic needs — and those of their family’s — met. In fact, 31% of families headed by women turn to emergency coping strategies to meet these needs, a figure 9 percentage points higher than the national household average. This includes 10% of women-headed households reporting that they’ve married their own daughters off earlier than intended. While this makes women in Afghanistan more dependent on humanitarian aid, however, many are prevented from receiving it unless a male member of their family can attend the distribution on their behalf. 

The number of Afghan girls and women at risk for gender-based violence rose by 3 million in 2023 alone.

4. The climate crisis is an additional threat to hundreds of thousands of Afghans

Afghanistan is one of the countries most affected by climate change — and one of the east equipped to handle its effects. Between 1951 and 2010, the country’s mean annual temperature increase was 1.8º Celsius, double the global average. Last year, 26 out of 34 provinces were affected by climate disasters. This includes the country’s third consecutive year of drought-like conditions, following the worst drought in 30 years from 2021-22 (one that some experts said was the worst since the country began keeping records). These conditions, combined with a failing water and sanitation infrastructure, have set off a national water crisis directly affecting 10 million people and leading to a knock-on effect around areas including food security, nutrition, and healthcare. 

In 2023, we were also reminded of Afghanistan’s vulnerability to earthquakes with nearly 400 hitting the country last year alone — including three 6.3-magnitude quakes in Herat Province in October. Concern teams are still addressing the long-term recovery of a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that struck the country’s southeastern region in the summer of 2022, which was followed by flash floods that proved fatal in five regions. Each of these emergencies erodes both governmental capacity to respond, and individual capacity to cope. 

An emergency relief distribution led by Concern in Afghanistan following a massive earthquake in June 2022.
An emergency relief distribution led by Concern in Afghanistan following a massive earthquake in June 2022.

5. Nearly 16 million Afghans will go hungry this year

In 2022, Afghanistan was one of a handful of countries on the brink of famine. While conditions improved in 2023 according to the UN, the combination of natural disasters and high levels of poverty means that millions of Afghan families are still facing high levels of hunger and malnutrition without the resources to cope. The UN estimates that 15.8 million people will experience high levels of food insecurity this year. 

Inflation rates around food have gone down, but the cost of a loaf of bread in Afghanistan in January, 2024 is still close to 25% higher than it was in January, 2021. The cost of rice is 30% higher. While hopes remain high that El Niño conditions will help improve agricultural harvests and ongoing drought recovery, many families are still recovering from the recent years of drought. Without a safety net, and with many humanitarian projects to help Afghan farmers get back on their feet underfunded, it will be hard to recover from the losses of recent years. 

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis can’t wait

Humanitarian needs don’t wait for a political settlement. Hunger kills and disease spreads,  no matter who is in power. 

Principled, accountable, and properly-targeted humanitarian assistance can be delivered in Afghanistan — and has been for many years. However, a lack of humanitarian funding and foreign aid being blocked has already slowed progress when it’s most critical. And it’s the most vulnerable people who are most affected by these shortcomings. 


Concern in Afghanistan

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. Our work includes:

  • Distributing food baskets and cash transfers for food to help deal with the hunger crisis 
  • Shelter and support to help repair damaged homes 
  • Supplying livestock and agriculture inputs and training packages to help people secure a livelihood
  • Community-based education for primary school children 
  • Providing basic household supplies for internally-displaced Afghans who lost homes and possessions


As long as our staff and facilities are safe and secure, we remain committed to reaching those left furthest behind. Learn more about our work in Afghanistan.