OCHA, October 6, 2022

Nine things you need to know about the situation in Afghanistan right now

Women and girls in Afghanistan are facing seriously high levels of gender-based violenc


People in Afghanistan are no strangers to hardships, having endured 40 years of conflict, poverty, displacement, drought and the COVID-19 pandemic. The country is now also facing a failing health system and an economy on the brink of collapse.

Even before the Taliban entered the capital, Kabul, on 15 August, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was one of the worst in the world. Nearly half of the country’s 40 million people, or 18.4 million people, already needed humanitarian assistance. One in three Afghans faces food insecurity, and more than half of all children under age 5 are likely to face acute malnutrition.

Protection and safety risks were also reaching record highs, as 1,659 civilians were killed and more than 3,000 injured in the first half of the year.

Women and girls in Afghanistan are facing seriously high levels of gender-based violence, with 51 per cent of women and girls experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Since 15 August, the impact of the crisis on basic services, including financial and health systems, has worsened the situation for vulnerable people across Afghanistan and risks tipping many more people into humanitarian need.

Here are 9 facts you need to know about the situation in Afghanistan now.

1. Millions have fled their homes

Since the beginning of the year, more than half a million women, children and men have fled their homes due to escalating violence. Being displaced puts them at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, with women and girls at greater risk of gender-based violence including sexual violence, early marriage and trafficking. They urgently need food, water and essential health-care services. But most importantly, they seek safety and stability.

In addition, more than 5 million people have been in protracted displacement across Afghanistan since 2012.

2. An economic crisis is looming

Afghanistan faces an economic crisis marked by the sudden withdrawal of large-scale development assistance, lack of access to cash, and reduced overseas remittances. Markets still function, but prices are soaring. As more than 12 million people are facing food insecurity, these poor families are now selling their belongings and borrowing money to buy food.

Limited supplies of cash are also making it difficult for humanitarian organizations to pay salaries on time, procure critical humanitarian supplies and provide rapid assistance.

Finding solutions to facilitate the flow of money into Afghanistan without breaking sanctions is critical to prevent an economic breakdown and to ensure aid organizations can continue addressing urgent needs.

3. Health care is on the verge of collapse

Millions of people in Afghanistan have lost access to basic services such as vaccinations and treatment for malnourished children and pregnant women. Sixty-eight per cent of women surveyed said they faced challenges in accessing health facilities.

Medicines, medical supplies and fuel are running out across the country. Cold chains for vaccines are compromised. Nurses and doctors are not being paid. Only 17 per cent of the 2,300 health facilities of the World Bank-funded Sehatmandi Project remain fully functional. Two thirds have run out of essential medicines.

On 22 September, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths released US$45 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund to help prevent Afghanistan’s health-care system from falling apart. But much more support is needed.

Afghanistan has made significant health gains over the last 20 years. A roll-back of these gains must be prevented at all costs.

4. Schools have reopened… but not for everyone

In September, secondary schools reopened in Afghanistan following months of pandemic-related closures. Sadly, only boys were allowed to attend; girls were left behind.

Education in Afghanistan has progressed significantly over the past two decades. In 2001, barely any of the country’s girls were enrolled in school. But by 2021, the number of schools had tripled and 9.5 million children were enrolled in school, 4 million of whom were girls.

Missing out on education will affect children’s lives, well-being and future. Girls out of school are at greater risk of early and forced marriage, and they face life-threatening health complications from teenage pregnancies.

Girls and boys must receive equal education opportunities for a better future.

5. Women’s and girls’ rights are at risk

The recent crisis has affected everyone in Afghanistan, but women and girls bear the consequences the most.

Their rights and freedom of movement have been curtailed, and women’s rights, including to education, work and holding public office, are in danger of being rolled back.

Women’s full participation in all aspects of life is essential, not only for their empowerment but also for advancing all of society.

Restricting women’s involvement in the workforce, including in humanitarian activities, will directly impact the ability of women and girls to access critical services.

Their experience, capacities and leadership are invaluable for peace and security in Afghanistan.

6. A fourth wave of the pandemic is possible

Afghanistan has just emerged from the peak of a third wave of COVID-19, in which positivity rates surged.

Before August of this year, 2.2 million people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Afghanistan received 5.24 million doses, but only 3 million of those doses have been administered and 1.6 million doses could expire if not used quickly.

Nine of the country’s 37 COVID-19 hospitals have already closed and all aspects of the pandemic response have slowed down, including surveillance, testing and vaccinations.

If the vaccination drive doesn’t resume soon, the country is at risk of a more intense fourth wave amid critical gaps in the health system’s medical supplies, personnel and equipment. It is a perfect storm that could lead to a health crisis and cause more deaths.

Swift action is needed to reach the national goal of vaccinating at least 20 per cent of the population by the year’s end.

7. Drought is causing continued hardship

Afghanistan is facing its second drought in four years, affecting one third of the country. Seventy per cent of all Afghans live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for food and income. Opportunities for farm work in drought-affected areas have been cut by 28 per cent.

This has pushed poor families to rely on child labour, early and forced marriage, and risky irregular migration.

The current drought also led to a water scarcity crisis and lack of drinking water. This will further increase sanitation and hygiene needs.

Today, 9 million people in Afghanistan need access to clean water, basic toilets and hygiene. This severe drought will worsen water shortages. Waterborne diseases and cases of acute watery diarrhoea are on the rise.

8. We are still here

Staying and delivering means reaching affected people in Afghanistan, wherever they are, with vital assistance.

Day and night, the UN is working with humanitarians, including local teams, to provide food, water, health care, education, protection and livelihood assistance. To continue this work, the international community must honour its promises and provide urgent and flexible cash funding that can be distributed quickly and allow humanitarians to help those in need.

9. Winter is coming

The struggles and human suffering of millions of Afghans will be exacerbated by the harsh winter, which is only a few weeks away. Plummeting temperatures will lead to an increase in acute respiratory infections and deaths.

Providing much-needed winter assistance early will be a lifeline for millions. Many affected families, particularly those who live in open spaces or tented camps, will desperately need warm clothes and shelter to fend off the bitter cold.

The world’s attention to Afghanistan may soon subside, but the plight of the Afghan people continues. The impact of recent changes will be felt for years and decades. But we will not abandon the people of Afghanistan. We will not abandon the country’s people. We will not abandon ethnic minorities. We will not abandon women and girls.

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