Overview of the Crisis
As the conflict strikes larger parts of the country, 3.3 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. The years ahead could see a continued or increased contest for control of the country as political competition intensifies in the run up to parliamentary and presidential elections.
Afghanistan continues to face immense humanitarian, social and political challenges. In 2017, ongoing conflict has displaced as many as 360,000 people from their homes and resulted in 8,019 civilian casualties - two thirds of these women and children. The intensification of the conflict, combined with a surge in sectarian violence, has led to extremely high numbers of war wounded on both sides of the conflict.2 Between January and September 2017, health partners reported more than 67,000 trauma cases – a 21 percent increase on those recorded at the same time in 2016.
Violations of international and human rights law are commonplace, with deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, including aid workers and schools and medical facilities, frequently reported as well as the persistent use of indiscriminate and often disproportionate tactics, such as suicide and pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (PPIEDs). Civilian casualties occurring as a result of ground fighting and aerial strikes raised concerns regarding the possible indiscriminate use of indirect and/or explosive weapons in civilian-populated areas, and the failure of parties to constantly take precautions to civilians from harm during all operations. The impact on the Afghan people has been relentless as they continue to use mobility as a coping mechanism to manage a range of conflict, protection and livelihoods risks. A recent protection study highlighted that 93 percent of displaced Afghans fled their homes due to conflict in 2017 – a 17 percent increase compared to 2012.
Internal and Cross Border Population Movements
Continued displacement has had 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 themselves to pre-emptively leave before being forced to do so. Conversely others, particularly those in around provincial capitals such as Jalalabad, have experienced rapid growth. Today, just under one million displaced people live in informal settlements in Nangarhar province – more than double from the 429,000 present only seven months ago. Of these, 64 percent are under the age of 18 and will require jobs and livelihoods opportunities in the coming years.5 Overall, provincial capitals across Afghanistan now host more than 54 percent of IDPs, further compounding the pressure on over-stretched services and infrastructure, and increasing competition for resources between incoming and host communities.
While 2017 has seen a significant decline in the numbers of people returning from Pakistan with 151,000 arriving in the first ten months of the year compared to more than 525,000 in 2016, flows depend on the status of bilateral relations and domestic political dynamics. Moreover, with the limited ability of both population groups to return home or to their ancestral places of origin, thousands of internally displaced persons (IDP) and returnee families have been left with little choice but to occupy the vast and growing number of informal settlements which now populate Afghanistan’s urban landscape. The conditions in these informal settlements need to be urgently addressed. Some 81 percent of displaced populations are severely food insecure, 26 percent do not have adequate drinking water and 24 percent live in overcrowded households.
Of additional concern are the 394,000 undocumented returnees who have arrived from Iran during 2017.7 In contrast to undocumented returns from Pakistan, the Iranian caseload contains thousands of special needs cases, including single females, unaccompanied migrant children, emergency medical cases, and a high numbers of deportees. Only 5 to 7 percent of undocumented returns arriving from Iran have received humanitarian assistance, against a projected caseload in need of 20 to 30 percent of the total number who arrive.
After four decades of conflict, there are huge economic and development challenges in the country. Approximately 39 percent of the population live below the poverty line, an estimated 10 million people have limited or no access to essential health services, and as many as 3.5 million children are out of school. Infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world and Afghanistan remains one of only two countries globally in which polio is endemic. Largely due to a lack of, or limited access to, sustainable job opportunities, 1.9 million people are severely food insecure; and 40 percent of children under the age of five are stunted.
Humanitarian aid cannot remedy this; development can and the international community has in place $3.8 billion a year support from 2016 up to 2021 to tackle structural and chronic development challenges.
Outlook for 2018 and Beyond
In the absence of a political solution to the conflict, widespread hostilities are likely to persist throughout 2018. Quite how this will impact population movements is unclear, however possible flashpoints include the arrival of US reinforcements (both human and material) related to the new US South Asia policy – which have already started – and the 2018 parliamentary elections. In this context, it is expected that the Afghan people will continue to pay a heavy price for fighting.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.