Protection Brief - Afghanistan (Quarter 1), March 2021

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Protection Monitoring demonstrates that at the close of Q1 2021 the long-documented risks facing the Afghan people persist. Many of these protection concerns are the direct result of armed conflict (including civilian deaths and injuries, conflict-induced displacement, destruction of property and infrastructure and contamination by improvised explosive devices and other unexploded remnants of war, recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups) and long-standing economic hardship. Grinding poverty that now grips vast swathes of the population, caused in large part by the decades-long conflict, pushes families to take ever more desperate measures to survive.

Key Protection Figures

Civilian casualties January-March 2021: 1,783 civilian casualties (573 killed and 1,210 injured)

Child casualties between January-March 2021: :552 child casualties (151 killed, 401 injured)

Total IDP figure: 4.8M

2021 People in Need (PIN): 12.8 M

2020 People in Need (PIN) 9.38


The operating environment in Afghanistan has deteriorated over the last quarter of 2020. The security situation remains volatile and unpredictable since the start of the peace talks in Doha in September 2020. Targeted assassinations, including through attacks using magnetic improvised explosive devices and suicide vehicle borne explosive devices, especially in the city of Kabul persist. Bases and checkpoints operated by the Afghan National Security Forces, highprofile people including members of parliament, male and female judges, female professionals, prosecutors, provincial governors’ officials, religious scholars and civilians even children are targeted.

Statistics published in UNAMA’s first quarterly Protection of Civilians (PoC) in Armed Conflict report for 2021 should put all on notice: Humanitarian and other responders cannot afford to focus solely on trying to improve the humanitarian response to civilians affected by armed conflict; attention, effort and resources must be put into efforts to prevent or at least mitigate harm to civilians.

Numbers of UNAMA-verified attacks on healthcare facilities for the first quarter of 2021 are slightly higher than those for Q1 2020. WHO’s Surveillance System of Attacks on Healthcare (SSA) shows that this year incidents are just as deadly, but also more likely to leave survivors with injuries. The impacts of attacks on health services, infrastructure and personnel are wider and long-lasting. Personnel fearful for their safety may opt to leave the sector, so that services interrupted reopen in a weakened state, or do not resume at all. Patients, also fearing attack, may choose not to seek treatment, and suffer poor health outcomes that could have been avoided. And during the current pandemic, efforts to bring the spread of the COVID-19 virus under control and to ensure treatment for those who contract it, risk being critically undermined by the forced closure of some facilities and prohibitions on vaccination work in some locations in addition to disruptions that are anticipated in the event of an upsurge in fighting.

Attacks on education verified by UNAMA for the quarter show a decrease against the same period for 2020, but vigilance and strategic engagement with all parties to the conflict will be essential in the coming months. Lessons learned from past periods of intensified fighting should be revisited now in order to ensure that no opportunity goes unexploited.

The planned draw-down of US and allied forces from Afghanistan throughout Q2 and Q3 of 2021 is expected to leave intensified fighting in its wake. In this scenario it is reasonable to assume that prohibited conduct, already noted by UNAMA to be increasingly in use, will be seen more frequently. In addition to the trends noted by UNAMA’s Protection of Civilian (PoC) report, the most recent data from the Protection Cluster’s monitoring indicates that children continue to be at risk of recruitment and use by both pro- and anti-government entities.

In addition to constant security threats, food insecurity is reaching alarming levels which could likely lead to many vulnerable households adopting negative coping strategies. 1 in 3 Afghans (14 million people) are acutely food insecure according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The food insecurity in Afghanistan is attributed to the lingering impact of COVID-19, armed conflict, a jump in food prices, high unemployment rates and income loss, and arrival of impending drought triggered by the complex and recurrent La Niña weather event. The combination of hunger, economic distress and an uncertain political future present immediate protection challenges in coming months.

In spite of these trends, return rates from Iran and Pakistan are continuing at a steady pace. 254,766 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran (251,466) and Pakistan (3,300) between 1 January - 1 April 2021. Returns from Iran are historically high - more than double the rate of pre-pandemic returns, and more than half are deportations.