The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan continued to remain grave in 2017 despite a reduction in needs at the mid-year mark from 9.3 million to 7.4 million. 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 percent increase in the numbers of internally displaced over 2016, mainly due to the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) and coalition forces’ escalating campaign to defeat non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in the eastern region. Soaring suicide attacks and airstrikes – which increased by 50 percent and 68 percent respectively on 2016 – as well as more targeted NSAG assaults on military checkpoints and infrastructure also contributed to rising trauma cases.
Although overall civilian casualties decreased by 9 percent, 2017 was the fourth consecutive year with more than 10,000 casualties (3,438 deaths and 7,015 injured). As in previous years, the conflict continued to exact a heavy and disproportionate toll on women and children, with the latter making up 30 percent of all civilian casualties. Unlike in 2016, however, when ground engagements comprised the largest proportion of deaths and injuries, combined improvised explosive device (IED) tactics – including suicide and complex attacks – accounted for 40 percent (4,151) of the total, highlighting the dangers posed to the population by NSAGs who, under increasing military pressure in the regions, are now resorting to asymmetric warfare and inflicting greater harm on areas once considered secure, particularly the capital Kabul.
Other concerning trends which increased in 2017 included the forced closure of healthcare facilities by NSAGs as part of efforts to extract improved medical treatment for their combatants, and which denied up to 1.4 million people (65 percent of them female) from access to essential services 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 or inactive due to the conflict according to the Ministry of Education. In order to address these issues and facilitate the creation of a protective environment in which Afghans are safe and free to go about their lives without fear of violence or harm, the protection cluster, in consultation with the HCT and ICCT, is developing a protection strategy in early 2018 to promote measures which support the reduction of civilian casualties and increase compliance with International Humanitarian Law / International Human Rights Law. These include the development of action plans and related advocacy to support the implementation of the National Policy on Civilian Casualty Prevention and Mitigation and the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, both recently endorsed by the government.
Despite initial projections of 1 million returns from Pakistan in 2017, an improved protection environment saw the arrival of just 156,140 Afghans in 2017 (98,140 undocumented returnees and 58,000 registered refugees). The decision of the Federal Cabinet of Pakistan in January 2018 to nevertheless issue the first ever 30-day extension of Proof of Registration cards to 1.4 million Afghan refugees prompted fears that a mass return was possible, if not imminent, and led to the development of an inter-cluster contingency plan to support 700,000 returnees with immediate humanitarian assistance totaling USD 198 million. Despite the Cabinet’s subsequent extension of PoR cards to 30 June 2018, the situation of Afghans in Pakistan remains precarious and subject to political dynamics and the continued acceptance of host communities. Partners on both sides of the border are currently monitoring the protection space for any signs of deterioration. While return figures in 2017 were less than expected, the tendency for existing returnee populations to settle in and around Jalalabad city in Nangarhar province – when combined with the significant numbers of internally displaced – has led to a doubling of the number of informal settlements (from 29 to 66). As of November, more than 750,000 displaced populations lived in informal settlements in Nangarhar province, up from 429,000 in February, two thirds of which are concentrated in the two districts of Behsud and Sukhrod.
While natural disasters followed similar patterns to 2016 with 58,000 people affected (a 20 percent reduction), the arrival of the La Niña weather effect at the end of 2017 has led to the second successive year of low rainfall and the loss of the entire winter cropping season, leaving as many as 1 million people at risk of exposure to drought. In response, the ICCT has developed a contingency plan to provide emergency assistance (both in-kind and in cash) – totaling USD 110.4 million – to the most vulnerable households living across the 20 worst affected provinces.
Overall in 2017, humanitarian partners delivered life-saving assistance to 4.1 million people affected by conflict and natural disasters, sudden population movement and the effects of decades of underdevelopment and chronic poverty.
Humanitarian assistance was primarily delivered through medical care to the war wounded; emergency survival supplies of food, water and shelter to displaced and returnee populations, including multi-purpose cash grants (of which USD 35.9 million was disbursed) and sectoral support such as cash for food and cash for rent. As in previous years, humanitarian resources were also dedicated towards gapfilling for the provision of basic services, including healthcare and nutrition, with funds primarily targeted towards the 9 million people – approximately 40 percent of the population – affected by insufficient coverage of nationally-led systems or living in conflict-affected white areas.
Overall, the HRP received USD 320.7 million in committed funds representing 78 percent of overall requirements, making it the second highest funded HRP globally. As in previous years, the well-defined parameters of the plan, which focused on the provision of life-saving assistance, 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 dedicated use of the 2nd CHF allocation 2017 to improve humanitarian response in hard to reach areas also helped to address existing imbalances in assistance provided to crisis-affected populations living in government and nongovernment held areas, the latter of which have typically been underserved in Afghanistan. During the year, humanitarian partners implemented programmes in almost 50 percent of all hard to reach districts (100) reaching more than 240,000 people in the process with emergency relief and protection assistance.
Despite these successes, a number of challenges remained.
While displacement in 2017 did not occur at the same rates as in 2016 – when an unprecedented 675,000 were forced to flee their home – challenges with the existing IDP petition system led to some delays in the provision of emergency assistance and concerns that alternative models of IDP identification may be required in the future. At the same time, continued internal displacement, combined with ongoing returnee influxes, have contributed to a significant rise in the number of people residing in informal settlements, reinforcing the need for durable solutions which support reintegration, including the allocation of land and adequate housing and for which finalisation of an Executive Decree is still pending.
Indeed, with both short and long-term objectives now being pursued in parallel, Afghanistan is a defining example of the humanitarian-development nexus. Moving forward, it will therefore be a test of the humanitarian community’s ability to work in close cooperation with all relevant actors (including the UN, NGOs, development partners, the World Bank and donors), and with the government at both national and regional levels, to define collective outcomes and integrated responses, through multi-year joint planning which reduce needs, vulnerability and risk while at the same time building resilience.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.