Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
Forty years of war, recurrent natural disasters, increasing poverty and COVID-19 are devastating the people of Afghanistan. Conflict continues to drive extreme physical and psychological harm and has forcibly displaced 278,000 people in the first 10 months of 2020. Even after the start of intra-Afghan peace negotiations on 12 September 2020, civilian casualties remain high, with no sign of a lull in fighting. Women and children are disproportionately impacted, comprising 44 per cent of all civilian casualties in the first three quarters of 2020. Health facilities and workers continue to suffer from attacks and intimidation by parties to the conflict.
COVID-19 has resulted in reduced income for 59 per cent of households, while 17 per cent of recently assessed households have taken on catastrophic levels of debt, mainly to cover immediate food and health-care needs. An estimated 30.5 million people (those in IPC 2 and above) are at risk of requiring humanitarian assistance if they are left without urgent social assistance from the Government and development actors.
Hunger and malnutrition have spiked amid the economic downturn, with food insecurity now on par with the 2018-19 drought. Over the past five years, the proportion of people in crisis or emergency situations has increased fourfold. In 2021, an estimated 16.9 million people, 42 per cent of the population, will be in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC 3+) – the fifth highest proportion in the world. Almost one in two children under 5 years of age is now facing acute malnutrition and needs life-saving treatment. The pandemic also forced temporary school closures, leaving 10 million children out of school for most of the year and the vast majority with catch-up learning needs. Despite the heavy demand for WASH services in light of COVID-19, almost three quarters of the population in rural areas lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
An estimated 18.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in 2021. This record number is almost double the number since the beginning of 2020 (9.4 million people), and it represents an increase of 31 per cent from the 2020 mid-year HRP revision (14 million people). This increase is driven by the social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19, high cross-border mobility, spiraling food insecurity and malnutrition, as well as conflict-driven displacement and protection needs. Results from the 2021 Joint Inter-Sectoral Analysis Framework indicate that all 34 provinces are considered to be in severe or extreme need, and more than half (19) are considered extreme.
High levels of debt, eroded livelihoods, continued conflict and repeated psychosocial trauma have exacerbated protection needs; 12.8 million people need protection assistance. Women are facing both an increased burden of care and GBV risks due to COVID-19. Additional protection assistance is needed for children who are increasingly required to work outside of home and are at heightened risk of early marriage, exploitation or recruitment into armed groups. With limited legal protection and increasing inability to secure employment, many households live under the threat of eviction.
As humanitarians shifted response priorities to meet COVID-19-induced needs, unaddressed priorities from 2020 are likely to drive more severe needs in 2021, requiring urgent supplementary development assistance, especially in protracted displacement sites. Financial strains and fear of catching COVID-19 meant that facility-based primary health and trauma services were underutilized in 2020, resulting in deteriorating health needs in 2021. Development actors delayed the roll-out of social safety net assistance in 2020, which is also a factor in the escalating humanitarian needs for 2021.
The situation beyond 2021 remains uncertain. While the current intra-Afghan negotiations present an opportunity to reduce harm to civilians and address humanitarian needs, increased violence seems likely to dominate the path to any peace agreement. Regional dynamics and anticipated additional waves of COVID-19 have the potential to threaten a hoped-for economic recovery.
Response priorities in 2021
In 2021, humanitarian partners expect to reach 15.7 million people (71 per cent of PiN; 91 per cent of the planned reach). This assistance has not been as comprehensive or durable as intended due to funding shortfalls, but it still reflects a dramatic scale-up in activities to meet new and exacerbated needs due to COVID-19. Limited funding has forced stricter prioritization on life-saving assistance and lower-cost, high-reach activities, such as risk communications, community engagement or COVID-19 awareness-raising, rather than the more intersectoral package of assistance envisaged. While conflict, access challenges, interference by parties to the conflict and natural disasters demanded partners’ flexibility, humanitarians have maintained a presence and delivered some form of assistance in 390 of 401 districts in Q2 2020.
2021 is the final year of Afghanistan’s multi-year HRP (2018-2021). Humanitarian partners aim to assist 15.7 million people, requiring $1.3 billion. The increase in planned reach is mostly driven by the sharp increase in the number of people in acute food insecurity, and it reflects humanitarian partners’ proven capacity to scale-up, providing that resources are available. The response will also continue to emphasize the need to expand AAP work, reinforce the importance of PSEA, and strengthen gender, mental health and disability inclusion.