A new IRC report confirms that the economic crisis that has engulfed Afghanistan since August 2021 is now the primary driver of persistent food insecurity threatening the survival of nearly 20 million Afghans, who are experiencing extreme hunger in the face of continuing political uncertainty and economic calamity.

Unemployment and poverty are now the greatest drivers of internal displacement. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) sees firsthand that humanitarian aid cannot replace a functioning economy and state. In Afghanistan, the collapse of both is driving 97 per cent of the population into poverty. The current humanitarian crisis could kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.

For the first time in almost a decade, some Afghans are experiencing famine. New analysis from the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) shows that 20,000 people are experiencing IPC 5 - the most extreme level of food insecurity. New assessment findings show that economic shocks, not conflict, COVID or drought, are the most common challenge facing households and the most common driver of needs. 

In response to these trends Afghans are forced to turn to increasingly desperate coping mechanisms.  43% of Afghanistan’s population is living on less than one meal a day, levels of household debt are rising driven by the need to buy food, and reports of child marriage and labour as well as organ sales are rising. 

Meanwhile, the escalating conflict in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on global food supplies. As the price of grain increases and seed oil imports are jeopardised, countries like Afghanistan are being pushed further towards famine.

Vicki Aken, IRC Afghanistan Director, said, “The fact that Afghanistan is facing record high figures of food insecurity is an indictment of the policies adopted by the international community towards Afghanistan. Although we are nearing the end of the lean season, the country is still in the grips of one the worst droughts in decades, which has severely hampered food production and left millions without a source of income. But it is the economic crisis that has pushed Afghans to the brink. 

“The crisis in Afghanistan is evolving into a catastrophe of choice as the policies of international donors designed to economically isolate the Taliban are simultaneously collapsing the Afghan economy and pushing nearly 20 million Afghans into a state of acute food insecurity. The freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves, the grounding of the banking system, and halting of development assistance, which financed most government services, have had swift and catastrophic impacts for ordinary Afghans. Today 90% of Afghans surveyed report food as their primary need. Between 2021 and 2022 the number of households reporting debt has risen from 78 to 82. The cause of rising family debt is easy to identify - the need to buy food. 

“At the same time, the role of women in society is continually called into question and it is becoming more difficult for them to access work. With over thirty years of experience in delivering humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, the IRC knows that women play a vital role in accessing the communities who need it most as they are the only people who can reach the most vulnerable, particularly women and children. Recent decrees on girls’ education and other restrictions are making it increasingly difficult for them to do so, and we are profoundly fearful that the situation could continue to deteriorate.

“This is a pivotal moment for Afghanistan; the world cannot afford to look away as its economy teeters on the brink of collapse and the progress of the last twenty years is lost. The international community can and should do much more to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of innocent Afghans, with action to avert Afghanistan's slide into total economic collapse urgently needed.”

To date, the US and other Western governments have focused on providing humanitarian funding based on a famine prevention strategy, putting in place important humanitarian exemptions and offering much-needed clarity on sanctions regimes at the bilateral and multilateral levels. However, the severity of the situation facing ordinary Afghans requires more than humanitarian solutions.

The report outlines key recommendations for immediate actions to support public service delivery and the humanitarian response, such as:

Steps needed towards international engagement in support of the Afghan economy include:

To read more detailed recommendations, view the report here.

The IRC began work in Afghanistan in 1988, and now works with thousands of villages across ten 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.