Afghanistan is one of the world’s most complex humanitarian emergencies, with over forty years of conflict and climatic shock -induced displacement. According to the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), 18.4 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, of which over 4.8 million have been displaced since 2012.
n 2020 the situation of displaced persons in Afghanistan remained a key concern. According to the 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO), it is projected that around 500,000 internally displaced persons, 714,000 returnees, and 72,000 refugees and asylum seekers are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021. In addition to the increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), worsening conflict continued to be a daily risk for civilians across the country. Regional economic declines also continued to impact the country, leading to nearly 866,000 undocumented persons returning to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan in 2020. This was the largest return year on record for undocumented Afghan migrants. Moreover, an estimated 104,200 people were affected by climatic shocks in 2020; this was less than in 2019 (306,500). This reduction was offset by the distressing impacts of COVID-19 in the country where measures such as lockdowns, border closures, and suspensions of formal and informal livelihoods were enacted to slow down the spread of the pandemic. This resulted in exacerbating the national economy and financial situations of many households.
The humanitarian community in Afghanistan regularly responds to the needs of recently displaced households through a variety of programmes, most notably the Emergency Response Mechanism (ERM). However, households displaced for longer periods of time often settle into informal settlements (ISETs); displacement sites where many of the occupants lack legal tenure for land occupation, which can severely constrain economic and social development.
Households living in ISETs are often reluctant to invest in dwelling improvements, and local authorities may not provide services. As such, these sites tend to have limited access to essential services (e.g. water and health care) and are vulnerable to eviction. Moreover, due to a lack of legal status, humanitarian actors are often constrained in how they may intervene and provide services. ISETs are often dynamic, forming and disbanding on a regular basis. The lack of coordinated regular monitoring means that the humanitarian community does not have a full understanding of where ISETs are and how to reach them.
n addition to a lack of knowledge about the total number of informal settlements (ISETs) in Afghanistan and where ISETs are present, the current COVID-19 crisis threatens to compound migration, displacement, and the pre-existing service gaps in these sites. Vulnerability to the pandemic heightened in ISETs due to characteristically poor sanitation and shelter conditions, increased insecure land tenure, lack of livelihoods opportunities, and restricted access to services. This crisis increased the need for information on ISET populations to better inform immediate responses for humanitarian aid providers and beneficiaries.
A renewed focus on ISETs following the 2020 HRP highlighted significant information gaps. Only a few needs assessments were conducted in recent years, including country wide studies by the International Organization for Migration Displacement Tracking Matrix (IOM DTM), two 2019 studies in Kabul by UN-Habitat and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a REACH pilot of ISET profiling in Kabul and Nangarhar in 2017, and a country-wide assessment also conducted by REACH in 2017. This country-wide assessment aimed to identify and profile as many ISETs as possible. Assessments on ISETs tend to focus on specific cities, while other country wide assessments have not consistently provided ISET specific information. The lack of formal, standardized, and up-to-date data limits the ability of humanitarian and development partners to design responses to these dynamic communities.