One year on since the shift in power in Afghanistan, economic collapse has sent the population spiraling towards a hunger crisis rooted in policies that have brutally punished everyday citizens. The IRC warns that if Afghanistan continues on this trajectory, the current crisis could kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.

For two decades, Afghanistan has heavily relied on foreign aid, much of which has been suspended or frozen over the last year - significantly impacting the welfare of Afghans across the country. The reduction in development aid, combined with the freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves and the grounding of the banking sector have produced a perfect storm of economic collapse. At the same time, restrictions on women’s access to work have contributed to Afghanistan’s failing economy, producing an economic loss of up to $1bn - about 5% of Afghanistan’s GDP.

The impact for Afghans has been devastating, bringing skyrocketing levels of unemployment, rising hunger, and the disintegration of civil society. Worryingly, a recent IRC report found that 77% of women-led civil society organisations have lost their funding over the last twelve months with most having closed down activities. These local organisations are critical to delivering services to the most vulnerable communities, especially women and children living in rural areas.

Vicki Aken, IRC Afghanistan Director, said,

One year since the shift in power, Afghan civilians are bearing the brunt of a decimated economy and spiraling humanitarian crisis. Since 15th August of last year, the critical non-emergency donor funding that sustained basic services in Afghanistan has been largely suspended. Twelve months of sweeping economic disaster has seen the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance jump by one third since the start of 2021. Today a staggering 55% of Afghanistan’s population rely on humanitarian aid.

People are unemployed and the nation is hungry; one farmer who receives support through the IRC’s cash for work programme in Nangarhar province has more than doubled his yield of okra and rice over the last six months, yet he must sell almost all of it just to make ends meet.

As global leaders sought to economically isolate the Taliban, their policy approaches have crippled the economy, destroyed the banking sector and plunged the country into a humanitarian catastrophe that has left more than 24 million without enough food to eat each day. And when a family goes hungry in Afghanistan, women are the last to eat.

The humanitarian response in Afghanistan is drastically under-funded, standing at 44% of the required amount to reach those in need. Humanitarian donor pledges must be translated to funding for the frontline response - but humanitarian aid cannot be a replacement for a functioning economy and state. Afghan families continue to pay the price for political impasse, and leaders must do more to urgently scale up the humanitarian response while also ensuring Afghans can access livelihoods and basic services, such as healthcare. Afghans need more than a humanitarian lifeline, they need a functioning economy. We urge international institutions to provide technical support to the banking sector to help it get back on its feet.

The Afghan people cannot be made to pay for the actions of the de facto authorities. Without meaningful support, Afghanistan will continue on this trajectory - and the current crisis will kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.

UK Response

The UK provided welcome leadership in hosting the donor conference in Afghanistan. Now it should step up again and lead global efforts to address the economic crisis in Afghanistan, and work with donors to ensure the full funding of the humanitarian response, including efforts to establish mechanisms to support women-led civil society organisations in Afghanistan, who are critical to meeting the needs of those most in need.

Here in the UK, many thousands of recently arrived Afghan refugees have been forced to leave behind their parents, siblings and friends, and now fear for their safety as they face the double threat of acute humanitarian crisis and persecution by those in power – particularly for women and young girls. 26-year-old Afghan woman and former BBC journalist, Khkula, had been providing for her mother and three sisters in Kabul before she was forced to flee to the UK. Now living in a hotel in Kent and preparing to welcome her first child without the comfort and support of her family, Khkula fears for her sisters who are barred from working and going to school.

Khcula said: “It was very difficult to say goodbye to my family. I was afraid to leave them in that situation, where women’s rights were being taken away. Now they are alone.”

The IRC is supporting thousands of Afghan refugees who have arrived to safety in the UK in the last year through tailored integration courses, working with local councils to provide community integration, orientation and job readiness support in Dari and Pashto languages. Our work empowers Afghans, among refugees from across the world, to adapt to life in the UK, and thrive in their new communities.

Among those receiving IRC support is Muhammad Nasir, a 31-year-old Afghan who was forced to flee Kabul with his wife and two young children in August 2021, after his work with the UK Government placed him in danger of persecution. After three traumatic days trying to escape the city via the airport, Nasir and his family arrived to safety in the UK and have since settled in Hampshire. with the help of the IRC’s Orientation for Newcomers and job readiness training, Nasir has rebuilt his life in the UK and is preparing to welcome his third child with his wife, Nooria, who has recently secured a job as a teaching assistant.

Nasir told us: “I still have nightmares of the things that happened to me in Afghanistan. I'm finding everything good here. Since I came here I'm free; I’m feeling like what a human being should be.”

Laura Kyrke-Smith, IRC UK Executive Director, said: “Through our work with recently arrived Afghans in the UK, we know how much they bring to our communities, despite the diversity of needs and challenges that these families face."

Whilst the IRC welcomes the UK Government’s efforts to provide safety to Afghan refugees through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), more needs to be done to meet the urgency and scale of need arising from the crisis. Thousands of Afghans who have arrived to safety in the last year are still in need of permanent housing, language and integration support, and Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) that will enable them to work.

Under the ACRS, the Government has pledged 20,000 places across five years. However, this number includes approximately 6500 places that are due to go to evacuees already in the UK, and the places remaining are inadequate to meet the scale of need. We are calling on the UK Government to urgently deliver 20,000 new resettlement places in the next 12 months and provide protection to the most vulnerable, as well as investing in tailored language and integration services to empower and support new arrivals from day one.”

Notes for Editors

View more case studies, photography and video footage of the IRC’s programmes in Khost, Logar, Laghman and Nangarhar provinces.

The IRC began work in Afghanistan in 1988, and now works with thousands of villages across twelve provinces, with Afghans making up more than 99% of IRC staff in the country. As Afghanistan struggles to recover from ongoing conflict and natural disasters, the IRC: works with local communities to identify, plan and manage their own development projects, provides safe learning spaces in rural areas, community-based education, cash distribution provides uprooted families with tents, clean water, sanitation and other basic necessities, and helps people find livelihood opportunities as well as extensive resilience programming.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) launched its first programme in the UK at the beginning of 2021, working in partnership with local councils to provide integration support to resettled refugees in South East England. This programme draws on the IRC’s expertise in refugee integration, building on our experience of running refugee integration programmes in the United States and Europe, to help refugees rebuild their lives in the UK.