January 11, 2022 — The IRC warns today of growing humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan as economic freefall pushes 9 million people to the brink of famine and the United Nations issues an urgent financial appeal for $5 billion to prevent humanitarian catastrophe in 2022.
The crisis has led to a surge in severe acute malnutrition (SAM) among children, a condition that requires urgent treatment to avoid long-term physical and cognitive consequences or possible death. In recent months, IRC-supported community health workers have seen a stark increase in children presenting with SAM, the severest form of malnutrition; in Khost and Herat there has been a thirty-fold and two-fold increase respectively between November 2021 and December 2021 alone - a testament to growing humanitarian need. Without timely and adequate care, these children are 11 times more likely to die than their peers at a healthy weight.
It has been over four months since the suspension of all non-emergency aid to Afghanistan. The impact has been swift and devastating. The freezing of the Central Bank’s assets and sanctions’ chilling effects have crippled the banking system and driven massive cash shortages - leaving many businesses unable to pay vendors or salaries, and families unable to pay for food. Within the next six months, nearly all 38 million Afghans are projected to be living in poverty, while 9 million are at risk of famine conditions.
Food prices have risen by an estimated 10-20% compared with the previous five years. In December 2021, the cost of wheat, fuel and flour were almost 50% higher than in the last week of June. In 2021, rainfall was below average levels throughout the rainy season, which has had a knock-on effect during a winter that has so far seen very little snowfall. Farmers are facing severe consequences for their first crops of the new year as the lack of rainfall impacts growth, and households will experience increased stress as food prices rise even higher and jobs become fewer and further between.
The harsh winter and dangerous living conditions will also exacerbate pressure on the already weak and overburdened health system, which would be essentially unable to function without funds from the international community. Short-term stop gap measures are starting to occur, but the WHO reports at least 1,000 clinics and the majority of COVID-19 hospitals are not included in these plans.
David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said: “The UN appeal published today confirms what IRC staff see every day: the people of Afghanistan are being pushed towards the brink of disaster, and for some already beyond the brink, by a misguided policy mix that is punishing the Afghan people for political differences between the international community and the Afghan government. This is as intolerable as it is appalling. After 40 years of civil war, the people of Afghanistan deserve much more than to see their economy frozen almost overnight. The only result will be more death, misery and instability. The proximate cause of today’s humanitarian disaster is clear: the economic tourniquet applied to Afghanistan, with the withdrawal of budgetary support to pay civil servants (including teachers and doctors), a freeze on Afghan assets, and broad-ranging sanctions despite exemptions for humanitarian work, is having a brutal and obvious effect. It is way past time for a change of approach. The economic withdrawal following the military withdrawal is indefensible and needs urgent repair, not just with more humanitarian aid but with a change of approach by governing bodies of World Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as donor governments.”
Vicki Aken, IRC Afghanistan Director, said, “As winter draws on and a dramatic economic collapse continues to unfold, families are being forced to make difficult decisions to ensure their survival. Food reportedly constitutes more than 82% of an average household income, and child marriage and child labor are increasingly seen across the country as families resort to desperate coping mechanisms to feed their families. As the economic crisis deepens, food prices rise and crops fail, humanitarian suffering will rise to unfathomable levels.
“Humanitarian crises require more than humanitarian aid if they are to be fully addressed, and right now the global response has left Afghanistan with little room to halt the slide towards catastrophe. Cutting off all development aid and the freezing of Afghan financial assets are hurting civilians; the grim reality is that disease and child malnutrition are rising as health workers go without pay and hospitals go without medicine, while 9 million Afghans are on the brink of famine conditions against the backdrop of massive economic collapse.
“Afghan civilians are bearing the brunt of this crisis. It is about time that a solution is found to allow civilians to access cash, food and medicine. The international community should move quickly to resume funding for basic services like health and education, including salaries for civil servants, and find a way to restore the banking system in Afghanistan so Afghans can access cash to support their basic needs.”
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working to support communities most impacted by drought in Badghis, Bamyan, Kabul, Khost, Helmand, Herat, Logar, Laghman, Nangarhar and Paktia provinces. Our programmes aim to improve access to water, and target particularly vulnerable families, headed by women, children, elderly or disabled people, with cash support and food assistance.
The IRC began work in Afghanistan in 1988, and now works with thousands of villages across nine 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.