“What is our Future?”: Afghanistan on a knife-edge



“My parents have no money, our neighbours have no money, I can’t go to school, there are no jobs. What is our future?”

Reyhana*, a 15-year-old girl in Balkh

One year ago, in August 2021, after nearly 20 years of Western military presence, Afghanistan underwent a rapid political transition as the Taliban swept into power. The takeover was not unexpected - it followed a withdrawal agreement signed the previous year by the United States and the Taliban, and coincided with the last international troops leaving Kabul along with the exodus of the former President and his senior staff. The international community immediately reinforced sanctions on the new Taliban regime.

Today, Afghanistan is the scene of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. An economic collapse – brought on by the cumulative impact of years of conflict, poor governance, drought and now international sanctions – is hurting the Afghan people most of all, and especially women and girls. More than half of the population, at least 24 million people, now need humanitarian aid. 19.7 million people are regularly going to bed hungry - one of the highest numbers in the world in a single country.

Behind these shocking statistics are real people. Every day, Islamic Relief teams on the ground meet mothers taking on crippling levels of debt so their children can eat one small meal a day, and fathers desperately searching for jobs that have disappeared. We meet boys dropping out of school to try to earn a few pennies to support their families, and young girls being married off as their parents can’t afford to feed them. We see rising numbers of malnourished children, while health centres run out of medicine and banks run out of cash.

We also see markets full of food that people don’t have money to buy. As unemployment rockets, small businesses have been forced to shut down and teachers and nurses are working for months without receiving pay. We speak to a generation of youth who are increasingly fearful about what the future holds for them.

This report sets out in stark terms, in statistics and human stories, how the current crisis is profoundly affecting tens of millions of vulnerable people. It concludes with ten key steps that can and must be taken to save lives and alleviate the economic collapse and acute hunger that have become a practically inescapable reality for so many.

The scale of suffering is enormous, but Afghanistan and its people are so much more than the pitiful stories of struggle that have dominated narratives for decades. Afghans are incredibly resilient and the country has enormous potential. Despite the extreme hardships, the Afghan people remain among the most generous and hospitable in the world, proud of their beautiful, diverse country and rich ancient culture. They share small aid packs with their poorest neighbours and welcome strangers with a cup of green tea, even if that is all they have left.

Afghan women and men want a better future for their children and are doing everything they can to make that happen in incredibly difficult circumstances. But they need the world’s support.

The international community has an obligation to prevent more suffering in Afghanistan, yet its response over the past year has been mixed at best. Hundreds of millions of dollars of vital emergency aid have been injected, saving lives and averting – or at least postponing – a likely mass famine. However, international action and sanctions continue to fuel the economic collapse and rising poverty. Humanitarian aid cannot be a substitute for a functioning economy.

A new international approach to Afghanistan is urgently needed – one that builds on the positive impact of humanitarian aid, gets the economy back on its feet and ensures that people can access cash, educate their children, find jobs and feed their families. The Afghan people don’t want to have to rely on aid, they want to build a future.