UNICEF Humanitarian Action: Afghanistan Donor Update 7 Dec 2000

Originally published

Afghanistan still faces conflicts as well as drought situation

As Afghanistan enters its 21st year of war, over 1.5 million people have been killed, including some 400,000 children, at least 700,000 women widowed and approximately 800,000 people disabled due to landmines or natural causes. The situation is now further worsened by the worst drought since 1971. Children and women of Afghanistan have been subjected to a volatile and violent political crisis and to a human rights and humanitarian emergency. Afghan children have been affected psychologically by so many years of conflict, growing up in a permanent crisis. A UNICEF sponsored study in 1997 in Kabul found that the majority of children under 16 years suffered from war trauma, 97% of the children had witnessed violence, and 65 % had experienced the death of a close family relative.

Some 1.2 million Afghans are refugees in Pakistan; possibly 1.4 million are still located in Iran. Many parts of the country are calm but no end to the conflict is yet in sight. The Taliban movement controls most of the country and enforces a particularly strict interpretation of Islam. Fighting between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces continues in the north and northeastern regions. The fighting has resulted in increasing numbers of Internally Displaced People (IDP), estimated at 130,000 people in the north east and elsewhere.

This year Afghanistan experiences the worst drought for 30 years. Crop production has dropped to 50 % in two years and WFP has warned that a wide scale humanitarian disaster might occur in the near future if sufficient additional food supplies are not provided. In the western region, some 40-50,000 people are internally displaced by the drought. So far, an estimated 28,000 people have already crossed the border to Pakistan, due to the drought and recent fighting.

UNICEF supports women and girls, despite conservative views

The conservative Taliban views pose difficult problems for women and girls in employment, education and mobility. Afghan women may not gather together, leave their homes without head-to-toe covering or travel outside their hometown without a close male relative. When girls were excluded from education in November 1995, UNICEF suspended assistance to formal education programmes in areas under Taliban control. Nevertheless, UNICEF has always continued supporting education where both boys and girls have equal access mainly through the informal sector where quality of education has proven to be better than what remains of the formal sector. Afghan women are not allowed to work, with exception of the health sector (but even in the health sector women face many restrictions). Female teachers have lost their jobs, and some work in home-based schools, often risking themselves and their families. Women also face other hardships. Pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous. According to a 1997 national survey conducted for UNICEF, the maternal mortality rate in urban areas reached 350 per 100,000 live births and 1,500 in rural areas, among the world’s highest rate. Only 3 per cent of women are immunized to protect their newborn from neo-natal tetanus. Vaccine-preventable diseases account for about 21 per cent of child deaths. Diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections account for another 42 per cent. Almost 50 per cent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition and 15 per cent from acute malnutrition.


National Immunization Days covered the whole country

Some 150 new cases of polio were detected in 1999. Afghanistan is one of the five countries in conflict or emergency where transmission of the wild polio virus is still high. This results in an exponential effect over the years on the number of children who suffer from the crippling effects of polio. UNICEF and WHO, along with the Ministry of Public Health, other UN agencies, and some NGOs, carried out 4 rounds of National Immunization Days (NIDs) in 1999 and 2000. In October 2000, 5.4 million children under five years were reportedly reached, and for November the same target figure will hopefully be achieved. Vitamin A has been provided during the June and November rounds to children aged 12-59 months. The high coverage in 2000 was mainly due to the fact that the Taliban and the Northern Alliance respected a cease-fire during the NID rounds. Active promotional activities and house-to-house strategies also contributed to the high coverage. UNICEF supports 5 regional and 20 provincial management teams including some 1,200 vaccinators, and provides all vaccines and operational costs for routine EPI. The cost of the routine immunization programme reach US$2 million per year, while the four rounds of National Immunization Days alone cost another US$ 4 million annually. A safe motherhood initiative (SMI) assessment was carried out in 2000 and UNICEF supports the development of SMI training materials for health staff in 4 provinces. UNICEF also provides technical and financial support to the installation of a salt iodination plant (the first ever) in the western region, which is crucial for the reduction of iodine deficiency.

Water and environmental sanitation sector to develop new education and awareness strategies

Lack of safe drinking water, poor sanitation and unhygienic practices contribute to high child and women mortality rates. UNICEF has been supporting communities to reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases, especially diarrhoea, through provision of hand pumps and wells, sanitation facilities and hygiene education in rural and peri-urban areas. A sanitation and hygiene centre was established in Kandahar to serve as a demonstration and training centre for appropriate low-cost safe water systems, family sanitary latrines (FSL), hygiene practices and home gardens using waste water to improve family nutritional status. In 2000, a hand pump water supply and sanitation guide was disseminated, as a water and sanitation sector group for Afghanistan (WSG) was formed in March 2000 under the leadership strategy of UNICEF, WHO, HABITAT and several NGOs. The main objective is to raise awareness on good hygiene practices. In November 2000 the WSG has developed the hygiene education strategy and messages in a workshop supported by UNICEF. During 2000, UNICEF has provided 200,000 people with increased access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities, and knowledge on hygienic practices (environmental and personal) has been promoted among 250,000 people. Training of counterparts, NGOs and community committees will also be integrated into the strategy.

Development and education as a main priority for UNICEF

The position of the Taliban with regards to girls' education has not changed, and girls are still not allowed to attend formal schools. UNICEF has therefore continued to work mostly through alternative and non-discriminatory channels of education in various regions of the country. In Kabul, an expansion of support to children studying in non-formal schools is being implemented. Also internally displaced boys and girls who live in the ex-Soviet Embassy compound in Kabul are supported. UNICEF's support for rural children's education is ongoing through a range of various partners, such as CARE, OXFAM, Afghan German Basic Education, Partners for Social Development, and the Rural Rehabilitation Department. In total, an estimated 76,300 boys and 35,600 girls benefit in Taliban and non-Taliban territories. In Badakhshan province, where girls still have access to formal education, education materials have been ordered for transportation later in 2000 when mountain passes will be opened. Education, distribution of supplies, teacher training, blackboard production, and monitoring of the WFP Food-for-Education project in this province continues to benefit 15,000 boys and 4,500 girls in 2000. UNICEF has co-organized a very successful exhibition and symposium of teaching and learning materials available for Afghan education and prepared an annotated resource guide for all materials. In collaboration with Save the Children US, supplementary maths and language materials were developed addressing weaknesses in authorized textbooks. UNICEF plans to extend education support in the western and northern regions, by starting small rural community education projects in targeted districts, and strengthening existing urban and rural schools (always on condition that the programmes include girls as well as boys). A water and sanitation component will be added to the education project for Badakhshan province. UNICEF will take the lead in pilot-testing the earlier developed supplementary math materials, which will start in 2001. UNICEF is further assisting with the training and evaluation components of the BBC Radio Education for Afghan Children's project, which will go on air in 2001.

Children and women in need of special protection measures

UNICEF aims to support children and women in need of special protection measures in selected locations in order to provide assistance as well as to develop longer-term strategies. Approximately 10,000 children and women have been reached through this project so far. UNICEF supports programmes for disabled children and women in Jalalabad, Kabul, Mazar and Herat with various NGO partners. In Kabul, UNICEF has supported the mental health institute and trauma/grief training, as well as programmes for working children. In Jalalabad, UNICEF has worked to develop playground projects, as well as a project on birth registration and working children. In Herat, UNICEF has targeted vulnerable women through a skill training and income-generation project with a NGO partner, worked with youth through a civil society literary organization and supported a shelter for vulnerable children. In Mazar, UNICEF has supported youth groups and women’s professional group, as well as a playground project and will plan a project for working children. In the non-Taliban area of Badakshan, UNICEF worked on women’s organization projects of awareness raising on health issues, which has also provided support to IDP children in northern Afghanistan and Kabul. UNICEF has started further action-oriented research to improve the above efforts and sharpen advocacy messages. A disability survey is underway in Jalalabad, as a consultant works on overviews of children and women in Mazar and Herat. Similarly, with two other NGO partners, a study on children in armed conflict is about to start.

UNICEF promotes children and women’s rights

UNICEF aims to increase awareness on the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) issues through capacity building, training and various advocacy and social mobilization activities. Most new UNICEF staff have received training on human rights approach to programming. With the support of Save the Children Sweden, UNICEF has trained 33 male and female master trainers on the CRC in five regions of Afghanistan, including Taliban and non-Taliban areas. To date, over 3,000 persons from various walks in life have been trained by these master trainers on the CRC. The training was successful and has opened opportunities to enhance CRC activities. It has also increased interest in the CRC amongst other partners, including UNSMA. UNICEF female social mobilizers have also been involved in CRC and CEDAW awareness raising in the Kabul region. UNICEF has disseminated information on women’s rights and organized activities/special events for women like the International Women’s Day. There has been a conscious effort to raise gender awareness, promote gender mainstreaming and increase the number of female staff in the programme. Various new CRC and CEDAW related materials have been translated and distributed. CRC has also been promoted through celebration of special days such as International Disability Day and the launch of the report on the situation of the world’s children. UNICEF also produced and distributed the traditional Year Planner (calendar) which includes messages on women and children’s rights. UNICEF supports the BBC’s New Home, New Life radio programme, which disseminates information and key messages on human development issues through drama.


The worst drought since 1971

The effects of the drought are being increasingly manifested in mass starvation of livestock, migration of people in search of food and water for themselves and their livestock, and a general collapse of coping systems. The next normal crop in rainfed areas cannot be expected until 2001. In severely hit areas, basic services are over stretched, malnutrition has become widespread, and vulnerability to disease and mortality are increasing. UNICEF’s activities include:

Health: in Herat City (IDPs camp and other areas); child immunization (measles and vitamin A), support to special cholera emergency interventions, control diarrhoea disease, provision of oral rehydration salt, water purification tablets, chlorine powder, antibiotics and IV fluids among drought affected population, and midwifery kits and drugs to NGOs.

Nutrition: provision of special therapeutic and supplementary feeding (including therapeutic milk) for drought affected populations, monitoring and technical support to improve national and sub-national nutrition surveillance and response capacities planned for the beginning of 2001, delivery to IDPs of household items, blankets, winter clothes for children, and other basic supplies.

Water and environmental sanitation: support to WES sector in the most affected provinces in: eastern region ( Pakteka, Khost, Paktyia), southern region (Kandahar, Zabul, Urozgan, Nimroz), western region ( Ghor, Badghis, and IDP camps in Herat City), central region, and northern region (Balk, Jawzjan, Faryab, Saripul, Samangan, Kunduz). Financial and technical support provided for the: construction/deepening of shallow wells, repair of hand pumps and non-functional water schemes, limited drilling of bore holes, support to community hygiene education and environmental sanitation, all for drought affected and displaced populations. In total, 300,000 people will benefit from these WES/drought mitigation efforts in 2000. NGOs, local authorities and other UN agencies (in particular WFP) are the implementing partners.

Monitoring and co-ordination: regional coordination bodies were set up in which UNICEF plays an active role. UNICEF has taken the lead in many WES activities. UNICEF staff is actively involved to ensure effective targeting of non-food inputs, field co-ordination and overall monitoring of drought and displaced emergency interventions. UNICEF participates also actively in the Islamabad based drought/IDP task force.


Under the 2000 UN Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP), UNICEF requires US$ 3,890,000 to fulfil its responsibilities. As a response to the drought situation, the UN prepared an additional drought Appeal for US$ 67 million, including UNICEF’s portion of US$ 250,000 for WES activities. The tables below show donor contributions for 2000 CAP, Drought Appeal, outside the UN appeals, as well as funds received for Afghan refugees in Iran.

Note: funds from the UK government for the Afghan refugees in Iran are not included in this pie chart.


UNICEF will focus its assistance on the needs of the IDP children who risk severe malnutrition and are freezing to death during the harsh winter months. UNICEF will also investigate possibilities to provide at least some education to IDP girls and boys. UNICEF has been able to pre-position basic supplies, however, additional resources are required to take ongoing activities to scale and prevent further disaster. Based on previous years experience (1999-2000) and the on-going increase of the number of IDPs, it is estimated that UNICEF will need at least $1,000,000 to respond to their needs in 2001. More detailed figures are included in the UNICEF Appeal launched in November 2000.

Details of the UNICEF Afghanistan Programme can be obtained from:

Louis Georges Arsenault,
UNICEF Representative
Tel: 92 51 212834

Robin Medforth-Mills
Tel: + 41 22 909 5554
Fax: + 41 22 909 5902

For more information, visit UNICEF's website at