Two years on since the shift in power in Afghanistan, humanitarian needs across the country have skyrocketed. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is warning that cuts to humanitarian aid for Afghanistan have contributed towards a 60% increase in the number of people in need alongside economic collapse, climate change, and reduced access to basic services. 

Just 23% of required funds for this year’s humanitarian response plan have been received, compared to 40% this time last year, and this underfunding has contributed to the response reaching two million fewer people during January - April compared to the same period last year.  

Despite major obstacles, the humanitarian response has successfully averted famine for the past two winters in a row thanks to donor commitment to sustaining support for Afghan civilians. The significant scale-up of the humanitarian response has brought the number of people on the brink of famine down by nearly 3 million this year alone - a remarkable feat that helped young children, who are most vulnerable during a food crisis, especially. 

Salma Ben Aissa, IRC Afghanistan Director, said,  

“Since August 15th 2021, Afghanistan has continued to suffer from a rapid economic collapse. Ordinary Afghans have paid the price; people who previously had jobs and were self-sufficient are now reliant on humanitarian aid and many families can no longer afford to feed themselves. Two years later the economy remains cut off from international systems and 28.8 million people require humanitarian assistance, while nearly the entire population lives in poverty. Almost 80% of those in need are women and girls. 

“Steps by the international community to expand and support the delivery of humanitarian aid, including through extensive sanctions exemptions, have saved countless lives. This year, in the face of significant challenges humanitarian actors have been able to maintain and expand their activities to deliver life saving assistance to over 17 million Afghans. Thanks to the tenacity and dedication of Afghan aid workers, whose commitment to the Afghan people has never wavered, organisations like the IRC have been able to deliver emergency support to families in remote communities who were unable to receive support before August 2021 when the conflict was ongoing. 

“Yet, despite the successes achieved, the IRC is growing deeply fearful for the future of the humanitarian response in Afghanistan in the face of continued funding shortfalls, which put millions of lives at risk. For example, the World Food Programme has been forced to slash food rations and cash assistance to 8 million Afghans this year. Without urgent funding, food assistance could shrink to nothing by October this year. Additionally, funding cuts this year have led to the shutting down of basic health services, including in the form of mobile health teams resulting in hundreds of thousands of Afghans no longer being able to receive health and nutrition support - disproportionately affecting women and girls. 

“This is a critical moment for Afghanistan; donors should commit to supporting the humanitarian response in a long-term and flexible manner to ensure assistance continues to reach those that need it most, and that Afghans are able to stand on their own two feet. Without this commitment, millions will continue to face hunger and an uncertain future.” 

The UK Government also has a role to play, both in helping to address humanitarian need in Afghanistan through flexible, adequate and long-term aid, and by fulfilling its commitment to welcoming eligible Afghans who have supported the allied efforts or otherwise have ties to the UK. 

Concerningly, Afghanistan has suffered one of the most severe cuts to Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending of any country receiving UK aid – constituting a reduction of 59% between the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)’s 2022/23 and 2023/24 budget allocations. Whilst the IRC welcomes the projected increase in aid spending to the country in the FCDO’s 2024/25 budget, this injection will come too late for millions in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, and still represents just 60% of the funds made available for Afghanistan in 2022/23 - barely scratching the surface of need. 

The IRC is therefore calling on the UK government to commit additional humanitarian funding to Afghanistan now, frontloading its existing 2023/24 allocation of £100m into the first half of the financial year, prior to the onset of winter in Afghanistan, and drawing additional funds from contingency reserves held back for emergencies and underspends elsewhere. In the longer term, it is vital that the UK Government returns to spending at least 50% of ODA in fragile and conflict affected states such as Afghanistan, where need and impact are greatest, and restores the aid budget to 0.7% of GNI at the earliest opportunity. Britain has played an important role delivering life-saving aid to fragile and conflict-affected states like Afghanistan, and must now continue to support the Afghan people.  

At the same time as extending humanitarian assistance to those in need in Afghanistan, the UK Government must also uphold its commitment to resettle eligible Afghan refugees under its Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which IRC UK fears is, in practice, failing to meet the urgency and scale of need.  

Despite the UK initially pledging up to 20,000 resettlement places over 5 years under the ACRS, over a quarter of these were allocated to people brought to safety during initial evacuations in August 2021, leaving only around 13,500 remaining places. In reality, just 281 Afghans were brought to the UK via ACRS in the year ending March 2023. Not only has delivery been too slow, but the number of places simply will not account for the number of Afghans eligible for UK protection, leaving thousands of people who supported the allied efforts, or have connections to the UK, trapped in the country or neighbouring states. Heartbreakingly, there also remains no mechanism to reunite family members who were separated during the evacuations. 

Speaking about the ACRS, Laura Kyrke-Smith, IRC UK Executive Director, added,

“Whilst we welcome the UK Government’s support for Afghanistan and the commitment to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), IRC UK shares widespread concerns that in practice, the scheme will leave many eligible Afghans without the protection they have been promised.

"Two years on, IRC UK is urging the Government to uphold its pledge to show a “warm welcome” to Afghan refugees, and deliver on its commitments to eligible Afghans waiting to find safety in the UK. First, ACRS places should be increased to at least honour the original pledge of 20,000. Second, the scheme must be effectively resourced and swiftly delivered. Finally, a mechanism must be established through which families can be reunited with loved ones already in the UK. For those already in the UK, no Afghan refugees should be evicted from hotel accommodation until they have suitable alternatives ready to move in to.” 

In the UK, the IRC has been providing integration, orientation, and leadership courses to Afghan refugees since 2021, equipping them with knowledge on accessing services, finding employment and integrating into their new communities to help them in rebuilding their lives in the UK. The programme is delivered to Afghan refugees in the UK in Dari and Pashto. 

Saghar, IRC client and Afghan refugee, said: 

"When we came here, everything changed… I had to start over again. I started from improving English language and after that I did many different courses. I am doing the Leadership course with IRC now, and it’s one of best courses I have had, it helps me with improving my skills, self confidence (that is really important for me), and how to be a good leader. Our teaching topics, and the class [are] organised very well, I am happy that I am a part of this amazing class.  

"We [people who are newly arrived in the UK] need organisations like IRC to help us to find the way to improve our self and skills, to start our career here, and be an active person in society.” 

Afghanistan is one of the International Rescue Committee’s longest-standing programs, established in 1988. Over the years our support has proven critical to the safety, education and wellbeing of millions of Afghans and we now work with thousands of villages across twelve provinces. With almost 5,000 staff and volunteers, 99% of whom are Afghans and over 40% women, 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.