Header image: Richard Pohle/The Times

Afghanistan remains the world's largest humanitarian crisis, with the number of Afghan men, women and children in need of assistance at a staggering 28.3 million. The UN estimates that the country is now home to the highest number of food-insecure people in the world, and faces the greatest risk of famine seen in over 25 years. 

Why is there a crisis in Afghanistan?

Following four decades of conflict, sustained poverty, environmental degradation and the Covid pandemic, many Afghan families were already at breaking point. But in the last 18 months, the humanitarian crisis has grown even more complex and severe, with rising unemployment, a lack of cash, considerably high food and fuel prices, and 2 incredibly harsh consecutive droughts leaving millions in extremely challenging positions. This means that, as well as facing crisis levels of food insecurity, many are now in acute debt: a staggering 80% of households in Afghanistan experiencing income reduction over the past 3 years, with 82% taking on debt.

Father and son leaving an Afghanaid food distribution centre, December 2022. Richard Pohle/The Times

After their return to power, the Taliban authorities have also imposed deepening restrictions on women's involvement in public and political spheres. This has included the December 2022 edict which banned Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the country from employing Afghan women in Afghanistan, with the edict extending in April 2023 to cover the United Nations (UN). 

How is Afghanaid still supporting those in need?

In response to this ban, Afghanaid - alongside various delegations, the UN agencies and other NGOs - has been engaging with the authorities to advocate for a full reversal of the decree. Alongside this, and thanks to our Afghan majority team, community-led approach and long standing presence in the remote, rural areas we serve, we have been able to devise localised solutions across our areas of work.

This means that our hardworking staff have been continuing to deliver a wide range of programming - from life-saving emergency support, to longer-term solutions aimed at helping communities grow more food, start micro-businesses and access basic services - without compromising the values of Afghanaid and safeguarding women's meaningful inclusion. For example, through adapting training curriculums, delivering training sessions in women's homes, and enlisting the support of village elders and female community facilitators to become key agents workshop delivery, we are responding to an extremely difficult and evolving situation with sensitivity, confidence and success, able to reach women directly whilst ensuring the well-being of our female staff.

Help now and for the future

To help families make it through the current food and financial crisis, we providing emergency food and cash to families like Safiullah's*. A labourer by trade, Safiullah's work dried up as a result of the economic collapse, forcing him to take up work in a coal mine in order to make ends meet and provide for his family. However, whilst working, he sadly suffered a devastating accident.

“Due to an accident in the coal mine, I got a spinal cord injury. As a result, I am currently paralyzed from the waist down and unable to move."

With now more limited job opportunities for women, Safiullah's wife Mariam* was struggling to support the family herself, leaving them in a devastating situation.

"My family lacked bread to eat, and I had no more money to buy my medicine," Safiullah told us. Fortunately, their community rallied around them, and introduced Safiullah and Mariam to the local Afghanaid team for support. As a result, they received 38,000 Afghanis (around £345), to ensure they could afford to feed their family for months to come.

Helping families fulfil their basic needs is a crucial first step in helping them rebuild their lives. Thanks to our supporters, we've been able to help over 25,300 households like Safiullah's with cash assistance in the past 18 months, and delivered food packages to some 352,490 families.

However, we also know that short-term aid alone is not sufficient to resolve the complex and protracted crises being faced by Afghan communities. Men and women also need to be able to make their own food and become more resilient so they can once again begin to support themselves.

This is why we're continuing to work with people like Asma* to strengthen their income-earning abilities. When Asma's husband sadly lost his eyesight several years ago and could not continue working, it fell on her to provide for their family of eight. But she found herself in a similar position to Mariam: with limited employment opportunities in her area in light of increasing restrictions, Asma was really struggling.

At the beginning of the year, Asma received two goats, a dairy processing kit and two bags (100kg) of concentrated animal feed, alongside valuable training on dairy production and keeping her new livestock healthy. For women like Asma, producing things like yoghurt and butter from her livestock has great benefits: it means her family have enough food to eat, but any surplus produce also generates a vital a source of income.

Read Asma's full story

Since February, we've supported over 21,000 households across the country with other similar income-generating initiatives to strengthen livelihoods, reduce household debt and increase affordable produce in local areas. This has included distributing over 1,200 goats, dairy processing kits, concentrated animal feed and mineral blocks, and delivering training sessions on dairy production to women just like Asma.

Protecting ordinary Afghans like Safiullah and Asma

In these dire humanitarian conditions, our ability to support vulnerable men and women has never been more important, and thanks to the adaptability, ingenuity and leadership of our Afghan-majority team, Afghanaid is continuing to work in a principled manner to ensure families can survive the enduring humanitarian emergency and keep working towards more secure and hopeful future.

Despite this, we remain concerned that the enduring decrees around women's rights will, as well as hugely limiting Afghan women's potential, heighten the risk that donor countries will reduce funding for humanitarian and development aid and therefore, in an effort to further financially isolate Afghanistan, punish ordinary people twice over. In January, the UN made its single-largest country aid appeal ever, asking for $4.6 billion in 2023 to deliver assistance in Afghanistan. By the end of June 2023, it was just 9% funded, leaving critical funding gaps for the humanitarian effort.

The international community must urgently act to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of innocent, ordinary Afghans whilst engaging in continued dialogue with the de facto authorities on women's rights.

How can I help communities in Afghanistan?

Women, men, and children across the country have never needed your support more to ensure that the world does not forget Afghanistan in its hour of greatest need. Please support Afghanaid so our teams can continue to reach women and their families most at risk with the help they need to survive and stay hopeful for a brighter future:

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*We have changed the names of the people in this story to protect their privacy.