2017 IN REVIEW
Humanitarian situation in 2017
The continued deepening and geographic spread of the con-flict, unrelenting displacement and exposure to repetitive shocks intensified humanitarian needs throughout the year. The key drivers of humanitarian needs were the underlying vulnerability due to the protracted crisis, escalating emergen-cies, closure of health care services, shattered resilience, nat-ural disasters and cross border migration.
The intensification of the conflict, combined with a surge in sectarian violence, led to extremely high numbers of war wounded on both sides of the conflict. Although overall civilian casualties decreased by nine per cent from last year, 2017 was the fourth consecutive year with more than 10,000 casualties (3,438 deaths and 7,015 injured), with 231,489 people receiving trauma services of some kind. As in previous years, the conflict continued to exact a heavy and disproportionate toll on women and children, with the latter making up 30 per cent of all civilian casualties. Combined improvised explosive device tactics – including suicide and complex attacks – ac-counted for 40 per cent (4,151) of the total, in contrast to 2016 when ground engagements comprised the largest pro-portion of deaths and injuries. Non-state armed groups (NSAGs), under increasing military pressure in the regions, re-sorted to asymmetric warfare and inflicting greater harm on areas once considered secure, particularly the capital Kabul.
Natural disasters are a recurring phenomenon in Afghanistan affecting on average one quarter of a million people per year. In 2017, natural disasters followed similar patterns to 2016 with 58,000 people affected. Although this was a 20 per cent reduction from 2016, avalanches, snowfall and flooding caused significant damage to homes and livelihoods in 22 out of 34 provinces.
The La Niña weather effect led to the second successive year of low rainfall and the loss of the entire winter cropping sea-son, leaving as many as one million people at risk of exposure to drought. Each year the country incurs agricultural losses of approximately $280 million due to natural disasters, and it has been estimated that a severe (once in a lifetime) drought could raise this to $3 billion.
While displacement in 2017 did not occur at the same rates as in 2016, displacement continued to have an impact on the demographic composition of large parts of the country. In some areas, particularly those where the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) is present, people have taken it upon them-selves to pre-emptively leave before being forced to do so.
By the end of the year some 507,000 Afghans had been forced to flee their homes due to violence, almost a quarter of in Nangarhar Province which registered a 310 per cent increase in the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) over 2016, mainly due to the Afghan National Defence Security Forces and coalition forces’ campaign to defeat NSAGs in the Eastern Region.
Cross Border Influxes
With exposure to protection risks on both sides of the border, 156,140 Afghans returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan, as well as approximately 395,000 Afghans returned from Iran, during 2017. The situation of Afghans in Pakistan remained precarious and subject to political dynamics and the continued acceptance of host communities, whilst families returning to Afghanistan were almost entirely dependent on ex-tended family networks and internationally funded assistance upon arrival.
While return figures in 2017 were less than expected, returnee families had limited ability to return home or to their ancestral places of origin. They were left with little choice but to occupy the vast and growing number of informal settlements which populate Afghanistan’s urban landscape. As in 2016, Afghan families returning from Pakistan tended to settle in and around Jalalabad City in Nangarhar Province which, when combined with the significant numbers of IDPs doubled the number of informal settlements (from 29 to 66), resulting in overcrowded conditions with increased food insecurity and decreased access to water and sanitation facilities.
Security and access constraints
2017 bore witness to violations of international human rights law with deliberate attacks on civilians and public facilities, including aid workers and schools and medical facilities frequently reported. Other concerning trends which increased in 2017 were the forced closure of at least 147 healthcare facilities by NSAGs. Their efforts to extract improved medical treatment for their combatants denied access to essential services to up to 1.4 million people (65 per cent female) at any one point. Attacks on other forms of civilian infrastructure, or the threat thereof, also continued unabated with as many as 1,000 schools closed/inactive due to conflict.
Following years of growing insecurity in Afghanistan, many aid agencies adopted coping strategies that either ‘bunkerise’ or ‘localize’ their operations. This led to ‘access inertia’ in the humanitarian response, with agencies avoiding the risks associated with working in insecure and contested districts, resulting in a lack of assessment and response for those communities.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.