The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan worsened in the first half of 2018, primarily due to the most severe drought since 2011 and increased violence throughout Afghanistan. The humanitarian response during the first half of the year has been hampered by underfunding and insecurity. The drought – as a result of the La Niña phenomenon, associated with reduced rain and snowfall levels – has left more than 9.9 million people food insecure, (integrated phase classification/ IPC 3) and 3.6 million people projected to be at Emergency level IPC 4 in the period November 2018 to February 2019. Following revisions to the 2018 HRP, a total of almost 3.5 million food insecure people in 20 provinces of Afghanistan were identified as havng acute humanitarian food needs. Over 112,000 Afghans were displaced from their homes in Badghis, Hirat and Ghor provinces, the worst affected provinces, to places where they could seek help in Hirat city and Qala-e-Now city. The response to the drought in areas of origin was slow, which contributed to a displacement crisis in the Western region, where the shelter response has been inadequate to date, with people continuing to live in scattered sites in dire makeshift housing.
Civilian casualties remained at similar levels to 2016 and 2017 although there have been worrying trends in terms of the way most people were killed or injured, with increasing numbers of people affected by IEDs (both suicide and nonsuicide) and aerial bombardment compared to previous years. UNAMA recorded 5,122 civilian casualties (1,692 deaths and 3,430 injuries) between January and June 2018, only a slight decrease of three per cent from 2017 levels. Almost half (45 per cent) of the civilian casualties were caused by suicide and non-suicide Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) attacks used by NSAGs, an increase from 2017. Ground engagements were the second cause of civilian casualties (29 per cent), followed by targeted and deliberate killings (eight per cent), aerial operations (eight per cent) and explosive remnants of war (four per cent), mostly affecting civilians located in Kabul, Nangarhar, Faryab, Helmand and Ghazni provinces. Casualties in Nangarhar Province more than doubled (1,494) compared to 2017 levels.
Asymmetric tactics on both sides of the conflict, including search operations, suicide and complex attacks, as well as assaults on solitary outposts/checkpoints, contributed to more than 61,400 trauma cases. During the reporting period, it was possible for most trauma cases to be treated in healthcare facilities in the province where the injuries were sustained. Of these, almost 23,600 cases were treated in First Aid Trauma Posts (FATPs), six per cent below 2017 levels.
The peace process in Afghanistan has been characterized by a “talking” phase, in which President Ashraf Ghani offered to engage in talks with the Taliban, without preconditions; followed by a more recent ceasefire offer to the Taliban over Eid al-Fitr. At the same time, the security situation remained highly unstable, with 50 security incidents in 21 provinces on the day of a Taliban spring offensive announcement in April 2018. Meanwhile, Islamic State Khorasan (ISK) activities have been intensifying in urban areas such as Kabul and Jalalabad, particularly against schools and education officials, but also against voter registration centres and mosques, through suicide and complex attacks. In Nangarhar Province, for example, half of the civilian casualties were produced by ISK IED attacks. Some 13 incidents were related to ISK threats on girls schools, in retaliation to air strikes against ISK strongholds. The worsening insecurity in Nangarhar, arising from ISK attacks on government facilities, fighting between ISK and the Taliban, government operations against NSAG and cross-border shelling, has led to a significant number of displaced people, many of whom remain in protracted crisis, increasing pressure on already overburdened systems (health, education, jobs, rents, crime rates) that are struggling to deliver. In addition, the insecurity had led to a limited coverage of needs in contested areas, with most I/NGOs unwilling or unable to intervene due to security concerns.
The levels of insecurity, particularly the violent nature of attacks between NSAG and government forces, displaced over 175,000 people during the reporting period. According to the latest Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report, during the reporting period, there were 229 districts under the control or influence of the Afghan Government which equates to 56 per cent of the total number of districts and is at a similar level to 2017. According to the same report, 65 per cent of the Afghan population live in government-controlled or influenced areas. If the current levels of displacement continue and there is fresh violence associated with the October elections, it is projected that HRP displacement projections for 2018 of 450,000 people, are likely to be reached, if not surpassed.
Protection issues continued to remain at the centre of the humanitarian crisis. In addition to the physical safety risks to civilians living in areas of conflict and the increasing pressures facing those living in displacement, people have had to endure significant interruptions to vital services as a result of the closure of healthcare facilities and attacks on education facilities. Over 544,000 children (203,000 girls and 341,000 boys) have been deprived of education as a result of over 131 attacks on schools, many of which have been used as voter registration centres. This is double the number of attacks in the first half of 2017. The risks of child marriage and child labour are compounded for these out of school children, who lack the institutional protection of schools. Additionally, children now represent a staggering 89 per cent of all victims of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW).
The latest Aid Worker Security Report indicates that Afghanistan is the most dangerous country in the world for aid workers, ahead of South Sudan and Syria. During the first half of 2018, the humanitarian space continued to deteriorate, after an increased number of incidents targeting aid workers. The first half of 2018 registered a 20 per cent increase in the total number of incidents against aid workers, assets and humanitarian activities, from 142 during the first half of 2017 to 171 in 2018. Similarly, there were 13 aid workers killed, an increase of 44 per cent on last year, while the number of aid workers injured more than doubled, from 10 to 23 in the first half of 2018. The number of aid worker abductions also doubled, from 20 in the first half of last year to 40 in the first half of 2018. Healthcare staff have also faced increased risks as a result of security incidents at healthcare centres (closures/ occupations) with 80 incidents registered in 2018, 16 per cent more than 2017. As humanitarian access to people located in hard to reach areas has increased, there has also been an increase in safety incidents for aid workers (kidnapping, threats, killings, injuries).
While returns from Pakistan decreased significantly, new arrivals from Iran simultaneously accelerated, with almost 429,000 Afghans crossing the Iranian border between January and June 2018, more than double the number of returns over the same period in 2017. Returns from Pakistan are down to 20,301 people, dramatically down on the same period last year. The most vulnerable 20 per cent of those returning receive humanitarian assistance, in particular unaccompanied migrant children (now the largest group amongst those with vulnerabilities), single females and female headed households, and emergency medical cases. The overwhelming trend of return from Iran is associated with the downturn of the Iranian economy, where the local currency has plunged over 50 per cent in the past six months against the US Dollar, affecting employment opportunities for Afghans, who are no longer able to save and send home remittances. The returns have particularly overwhelmed the humanitarian response at the border crossing point at Milak (Nimroz), where Ministry of Repatriation and Refugee staff experienced difficulties in keeping up with the registration and secondary vulnerability assessments. The inadequate facilities at the border point are resulting in many Afghans bypassing registration and not receiving the emergency assistance they need. The two crossings in Nimroz and Hirat have had to cope with a 124 per cent increase in returnees in 2018, compared to 2017. The returns have also affected the capacity of host communities to absorb the new arrivals. Despite the unprecedented arrival levels, at the end of the reporting period, IOM has had to reduce its provision of humanitarian assistance for returnees at the border crossing points due to insufficient funding. This reduction has potentially had a life-altering impact on thousands of returning Afghans who are no longer able to receive the humanitarian assistance they need.
Lastly, OCHA has initiated the Whole of Afghanistan Assessment, to inform the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview. As part of the inter-sectoral needs assessment, multiple population groups will be canvassed through a household-level survey, key informant interviews in hard to reach areas and focus group discussions to expand and clarify certain quantitative findings.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.