Four decades of conflict in Afghanistan have gradually worn down the coping mechanisms and resilience of millions. Things became more challenging in August of 2021 when development funding was withdrawn following the takeover in leadership by the Islamic Emirate.

Here’s what you need to know now about Afghanistan’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.

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1. Humanitarian need in Afghanistan has tripled in two years

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.

Before August 2021, over 18 million people  in Afghanistan required humanitarian aid — including more than 3 million children. Since then, humanitarian need has grown by one-third. 24 million Afghans now require humanitarian assistance. While this number is high, it’s even more dire in contrast to the humanitarian needs before the COVID-19 pandemic: In January, 2020, fewer than 9 million Afghans required humanitarian assistance.

In January 2020, fewer than 9 million Afghans required humanitarian assistance. That number doubled to 18 million in the first year of COVID. Following the events of August, 2021, 24 million Afghans now require humanitarian aid.

2. Additional emergencies are still happening

COVID-19 hit Afghanistan hard. Some estimates place coronavirus deaths as high as 200,000 as of the beginning of 2022. Only 4% of the country is vaccinated against COVID-19. The pandemic highlighted the weaknesses of the country’s healthcare system, as well as the lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities in many of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities.

Beyond that, however, lockdowns, border closures, the suspension of both informal and formal work opportunities, and pandemic-related inflation have further eroded Afghans’ abilities to cope with unexpected shocks and disasters.

This was underscored on June 22, 2022, when  a 5.9-magnitude earthquake hit southeastern Afghanistan, killing over 1,000 people, destroying almost 5,000 homes, and leaving over 400,000 people in need of humanitarian aid. Recovery from these situations doesn’t happen overnight, and this earthquake’s epicenter in the country’s mountain ranges has left thousands of families in the foothills and valleys vulnerable to the coming winter. The seasons are extremely harsh in this region, and families are at risk for exposure as temperatures drop.

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

3. One out of every ten refugees is Afghan

Afghanistan represents one of the world's largest refugee crises. Today, one in ten refugees in the world is Afghan by birth — amounting to approximately 2.6 million refugees (the majority of whom live in neighboring Pakistan and Iran). For many refugees, their needs are equally stark as they live in a semi-permanent in-between state.

There are even more internally-displaced Afghans, an estimated 3.5 million as of the end of 2021. Over 700,000 were displaced in the final months of 2021 alone, many in search of security but others also searching for reprieve from the country’s latest incarnation of the climate crisis.

4. The country is experiencing its worst drought on record

Over 80% of Afghanistan has been hit by the worst drought in decades, and what some experts have called the worst since the country began keeping records. This latest in a series of weather events began with failed rains in 2020 and escalated sharply over the last year, nearly doubling food insecurity and forcing people to move in search of food, water, and income.

Many Afghans are still recovering from a 2018 drought that forced farmers and pastoralists to sell off livestock and other assets (often at a loss) in order to survive. Between security concerns and this climate shock, agricultural labor activities are estimated to have been reduced by 28% in 2021. With a small margin for error, this is a significant loss.

5. Afghanistan is one of the countries currently on watch for famine

As mentioned above, hunger rates in Afghanistan nearly doubled between 2021 and 2022, increasing from 12.2 million to over 22 million — more than half of the population. Inflation related to both conflict and COVID raised the costs of wheat, rice, sugar, and cooking oil by more than 50% compared to pre-2020 prices.

Hunger rates among Afghan children have dramatically increased, nearly tripling between 2021 and 2022. Currently, approximately 12 million children aren’t meeting their daily nutritional requirements (2021 estimates were that 4 million children were suffering from moderate to severe acute malnutrition). All of this leaves monitors concerned about a possible famine for the country in the near future.

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis can't wait, even if all signs are pointing to a long resolution

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 has already slowed progress when it’s most critical. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent estimates that a drop in funding will lead to a drop of food assistance in the second half of 2022, from 38% of the population receiving rations to just 8%.

All of this ignores the other pressing issues of gender equality, gender-based violence, and education — especially for Afghanistan’s youngest residents, 4.2 million of whom are out of school. However, all progress in the country comes down to the reassurance that the international community will not withdraw funding or abandon Afghan civilians. Unfortunately, in the last year, we’ve seen this promise fall short.

Landscape of rural province in Northern Afghanistan.
Landscape of rural province in Northern Afghanistan. (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. 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

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Highlights from last year in Afghanistan

Despite the intensification of conflict and the deteriorating security environment, Concern continued its work to build the resilience of extremely rural communities in the Kunduz, Badakhshan, and Takhar provinces of northeastern Afghanistan. Last year alone, we:

  • Helped an estimated 29,900 people with cash to purchase food
  • Installed handwashing stations, rehabilitated damaged hand‐pumps and provided hygiene awareness training to help stop the spread of COVID‐19 and other diseases.
  • Provided over 2,900 families with winter support packages which included winter clothes, blankets, and cash to buy fuel.
  • Reached over 16,000 with our multi‐sector resilience program, with projects focused on livelihoods, natural resource management, education and hygiene
  • Improved veterinary services for almost 3,400 people who rely on livestock for food and income
  • Conducted Farmer Field School sessions for 600 farmers to help them learn about new crops and techniques.
  • Helped to establish 120 orchards, growing 66 fruit varieties and trained 300 women in kitchen garden training

Another key component of our resilience program in Afghanistan is watershed management. This plays a crucial role in soil and water preservation, reduces land degradation and protects against landslides, erosion and deforestation. In 2021, 48,500 drought‐resistant trees were planted and 5,300 pounds of alfalfa were cultivated on the edge of the watersheds to stabilize the soil and prevent landslides.