In Afghanistan 2016 was a year marked by a series of disturbing developments. By the end of the year, some 652,000 Afghans had fled their homes due to conflict, 620,000 had returned to Afghanistan following a deterioration in the protection environment in Pakistan, and 11,418 civilians had been either killed (3,498) or injured (7,920) as a result of fighting between Afghan and pro-government forces and Non State Armed Groups (NSAGs). The Taliban assault on Kunduz in October 2016 almost a year to the day after it previously fell into NSAG hands, followed successive efforts throughout the year to take other key provincial capitals, including Lashkar Gah, Farah and Maimana, underlining the tenuous security situation across many parts of the country and the precariousness of the safety and livelihoods of populations inhabiting these areas. While natural disasters in 2016 did not occur on the same scale as in 2015, with approximately 70,000 people affected in comparison to an annual average of 200,000, the devastating avalanches in Nuristan province in February 2017 serve as a timely reminder that they are a recurrent event for which the humanitarian community must continue to be prepared.
The humanitarian situation in 2016 was defined by the increase in the geographical spread and intensity of the conflict, itself characterised by more intense ground confrontations between government forces and NSAGs in civilian populated areas as well as aerial operations supported by the international military. In 2016, 33 out of 34 provinces experienced some form of ground fighting, and correspondingly, a record 229 districts – more than half of the country – reported conflict-induced displacements. Women and children in particular paid a heavy price for the conflict, with the latter making up one third of all civilian casualties, a jump of 23% on those in 2015. One of the most concerning trends has been the increase of civilian casualties attributed to pro-government forces as a result of aerial operations, with 590 civilian casualties recorded in 2016, nearly double those in 2015, and the highest number since UNAMA first began documenting such figures in 2009.
In addition to unprecedented and unacceptably high numbers of civilian casualties, 2016 saw continued restricted access to health and education facilities with 119 conflict-related incidents targeting healthcare workers and clinics, almost two thirds of which involved some form of intimidation and harassment, including 9 cases of military occupation or use of healthcare facilities by armed forces.1 To address 1. Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Annual Report 2016, pg. 28 both these issues and improve compliance with international humanitarian law, the Humanitarian Coordinator will reconvene the Senior Level Working Group on the Protection of Civilians in 2017 to promote measures which support the reduction of civilian casualties and achieve concrete improvements in the protection of civilians, including the adoption of operational best practices. In 2017, OCHA will also produce a monthly incident report of health and education facilities overtaken, occupied or closed by armed groups, including government and pro-government forces, to more rigorously monitor access violations and inform higherlevel advocacy.
Conflict induced displacement rose steadily throughout the year reaching an all-time high in October when 228,000 people were displaced in a single month. In addition to the high levels of internal displacement, from July onwards a surge in returnee populations of both registered and undocumented Afghans, mainly from Pakistan, prompted the launch of a USD 152 million Flash Appeal – One Million People on the Move – and the activation of the CERF Rapid Response Fund to provide overstretched partners with additional resources and capacity. Humanitarian interventions directed towards returnee and IDP populations included the provision of multipurpose cash grants, emergency ES-NFI support (including tents, blankets and kitchen equipment), food assistance and transportation support. With additional resources from the CERF, humanitarian activities at border entry points, including health and nutrition screening and immunisation services for children under ten, were augmented.
In 2016, the majority of humanitarian assistance was delivered through the provision of life-saving medical care and emergency survival supplies of food, water and shelter to an unprecedented number of displaced, both internally and cross border. A significant proportion of the displaced were supported with multipurpose cash grants enabling them to decide for themselves how best to meet their basic needs.
Following the trend of recent years, 2016 saw significant humanitarian resources allocated towards addressing major gaps in the provision of basic services, specifically healthcare and nutrition, with funds primarily targeted towards the 9 million people – approximately 40% of the population – affected by insufficient coverage of nationally-led systems or living in conflict-affected white areas.
Over USD 538.7 million was provided towards humanitarian programming in 2016, including USD 356 million towards the Humanitarian Response Plan, representing 73 percent Situation Overview of overall requirements inclusive of the Flash Appeal.
As in previous years, the well-defined parameters of the Humanitarian Response Plan, which focus on the provision of life-saving assistance only, continued to resonate with donors who recognise the ongoing need for immediate emergency humanitarian assistance to be provided to populations for whom no alternative lifeline exists. The endorsement of the Household Emergency Level Assessment Tool (HEAT) by the Humanitarian Country Team in June 2016 – a common household level survey designed to obtain a quick and clear overview of key needs and vulnerabilities in the initial wake of an emergency – and its subsequent roll out nationwide has also helped address a significant gap in terms of providing a systematic and coherent evidence-base for decision making and financing of emergency humanitarian response options, as well as reduced the misallocation of limited resources at a time when needs are ever-increasing.
Despite these successes, a number of challenges remained. The unprecedented number of IDPs in 2016 – 39% higher than those recorded in 2015 – combined with the massive influx of returnees has increased the need for the introduction of more coherent registration and tracking systems, as well as long-term solutions for civil documentation, as highlighted by the significant variance in the numbers identified and assisted in areas of settlement and border intention surveys.
In a context of likely increased IDP and returnee trends in 2017, the humanitarian community’s ability to accurately track population movement will be critical to ensuring that limited resources are directed towards where vulnerabilities and needs are the highest. Expanding conflict and increasing humanitarian needs also call into question the sustainability of humanitarian funding being used to bridge gaps in public services, and it is clear that greater cooperation between humanitarian and development actors will be required to mitigate humanitarian crises developing as a result of the interplay between entrenched poverty and sudden onset shocks, be they natural or man-made. It will be crucial therefore that response and preparedness efforts link to longer-term initiatives that build community resilience – including risk analysis, capacity mapping and early warning – while simultaneously being sufficiently flexible to absorb new caseloads affected by sudden shocks.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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