“It was a very, very tense and frightening period of days,” says Jared Rowell, DRC’s Country Director in Afghanistan, about the days when the Taliban seized power in the country.
“When Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities, fell, it became clear that things were going to escalate very rapidly. The following Sunday, Kabul fell. Our team came to the office that day, but we sent them home at the end of the morning because it was very unclear how violent the situation could become.”
The swift advance of the Taliban, which culminated in them seizing control over Kabul on 15 August, left the country in an extremely vulnerable situation and led to thousands of people fleeing their homes. Some fled the country, while others headed to the larger cities such as Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif and found shelter with relatives, in parks, or in the streets.
Today, the situation in most of Afghanistan is one of relative calm as the frequency of security incidents have dropped significantly since those days in mid-August. But it is also one of fear and uncertainty about the future and one of tremendous humanitarian needs.
Jared Rowell, Country Director for DRC Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s population was already one of the world’s most vulnerable after 40 years of violence and conflict, several natural disasters, and the consequences of the battle against COVID-19. According to the Asian Development Bank, almost half the country's population of 40 million live below the national poverty line, and some four million people are internally displaced.
“There are pressing needs for everything related to food, shelter, medicine and protection. If this is in any way similar to what we saw during the first wave of COVID-19, it’s possible we are going to see huge increases in gender-based violence, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and early marriage,” says Jared Rowell.
“Also, winters can be quite severe in Afghanistan, and it is going to be very challenging this year, so there is a need for shelter, fuel, blankets, and other non-food items. Some of the very basic services are all going to be very important in the coming months.”
Furthermore, because of the volatile situation in Afghanistan, banks in the country are now closed, and exports from neighbouring countries have plummeted leading to an increase in food and fuel prices. This has left millions of people food insecure and a desperate need for consistent access to cash.
“The best way to meet this need is to do so-called multi-purpose cash distributions which give the households a certain autonomy to decide how to spend the cash rather than earmarking them for rent, food and so on. This is a far more dignified approach, which empowers people to make certain decisions for themselves. Fundamentally, they have the best idea of what their own needs are,” says Jared Rowell.
Since the Taliban seized control of the country there has been plenty of focus on the Afghans leaving or trying to leave the country. But half of the country’s population are in need of humanitarian aid, so it is important to also remember the long-term focus on those who are still in the country, says Jared Rowell.
“Quite a large number of Afghans have left the country or want to leave. But at the end of the day, there will still be 40 million people in Afghanistan requiring attention and services as well. We need to also focus on their needs, and those needs are escalating dramatically these days.”
“We are seeing donors and governments withdrawing large-scale multi-year development funding in order to focus more on short-term humanitarian interventions. But it is important to stress that issues that are not necessarily related to humanitarian needs such as women’s rights, livelihoods, and economic development still need to be addressed, and you can’t do that with six-month awards.”
DRC has been present in Afghanistan since 1999 and will remain so through a locally anchored setup with 700 Afghan employees across several of the country’s 34 provinces.
DRC continues to be present on the ground in Afghanistan through a robust and locally anchored set-up with 700 Afghan employees and is among the recognized and experienced aid agencies with more than 20 years in the country. At the same time DRC calls for more access in a time of increasing humanitarian needs.
As one of the largest informal settlements in Afghanistan’s Herat province, Shahrak Sabz is home to thousands of families from neighbouring provinces who were displaced during a drought in 2018. Three years on, they struggle to meet their most basic needs and cope with freezing temperatures.
The drought in Afghanistan adds to challenges already faced by Afghans amid escalating conflict and insecurity as well as the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Nearly a third of the population is facing emergency levels of food insecurity, with almost half of children under-five at risk of acute malnutrition.