UN reports ‘massive deterioration’ in Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis

Children waiting in a queue to receive food in aid in Kabul on January 18, 2022.

Afghanistan started the year – 2023 – as the world’s largest and most severe humanitarian crisis, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in its latest report adding that an alarming increase in the number of people in the country are in need of humanitarian and protection assistance.

According to OCHA’s latest report, which was published on Sunday, a record 28.3 million people – that is two-thirds of the population – are in need of aid this year. “This represents a massive deterioration both in terms of numbers and severity,” read the report.

Of the 28.3 million people in need of life-saving assistance, humanitarian partners have prioritized 23.7 million people to receive well-coordinated multi-sector assistance in 2023, for which $4.62 billion is required.

“This a huge spike from 24.4 million people in need in 2022 and 18.4 million in early 2021. Today, some 20 million people face acute hunger by March 2023, with 6 million people in ‘emergency’ levels (one step away from famine) – one of the world’s highest figures in absolute terms.”

OCHA stated that malnutrition rates remain extremely high, with some 875,000 children expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2023, and 2.3 million children and 840,000 women from moderate acute malnutrition.

The aid agency warned that if Afghanistan enters a third year of drought, the nutrition situation could deteriorate by a further 20 percent. The report noted that changes in rainfall patterns severely eroded livelihood practices while the deteriorating economy has caused sharp declines in income, rising debt and high unemployment.

“A staggering 80 percent of households across Afghanistan have experienced income reduction. People’s debts have mounted – both in terms of the number of people taking on debt (82 percent of all households) and the amount of debt (about 11 percent higher than the previous year).

“Three-quarters of people’s incomes is spent on food, with very little left to meet their other needs, such as education and health care. Deepening poverty, human rights violations and a lack of access to essential services are compounding an already dire situation,” OCHA stated.

As mentioned earlier in the week by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, OCHA also reported that the operating space for aid agencies in the country is shrinking due to the restrictive measures by the Taliban, mainly on women and girls.

The report stated however that in 2023, aid agencies remain committed to staying and delivering on behalf of the Afghan population in need. OCHA in turn also called on the international community to remain in solidarity with the Afghan people and to “put all hands on deck to prevent Afghanistan from spiraling any further.”

However, the report stated that “urgent funding and a conducive operating environment are both critical to preventing the worst fears from being realized, as the outlook for 2023 remains grim.”

This past winter has been particularly harsh for the people of Afghanistan and in January some areas recorded extreme temperatures, including drops to minus 35 degrees. These harsh winter conditions resulted in the
loss of hundreds of thousands of livestock either from exposure or starvation, adding to the plight of the people.

But the ban on women working for aid agencies is having a direct impact on the delivery of assistance to women, especially female-headed households as male aid workers cannot replace their female counterparts under the Taliban’s Sharia laws.

In addition, activities linked to protection, including gender-related and gender-based violence interventions targeting women, are the most severely affected by the ban.

In terms of going forward, OCHA stated that aid agencies continue to engage with the Taliban to find solutions to the ban and over the past few weeks, some operational opportunities have been identified which could help preserve and even expand humanitarian space through central and local authorizations for different sectors and activities.

But with the support of humanitarian leadership, aid agencies intend to continue negotiations with the Taliban to expand authorizations to cover all sectors; pursue local reinforcement of these authorizations at the sub-national level; and implement programs according to a minimum criterion of operations.

“These three factors are critical to maintaining a principled, effective and accountable humanitarian response, and safeguarding the meaningful involvement of women in humanitarian action,” the report stated.