Photo: Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times/Getty

Afghanistan

Cash shortage, food insecurity, and a looming winter. In Afghanistan, humanitarian needs are soaring

After the Taliban seized control over Afghanistan, the situation today is one of relative calm, says Country Director, Jared Rowell. But in the wake of the volatile situation, humanitarian needs are soaring

“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.

Relative calm, but …

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.

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.

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.”

A need for consistent access to cash

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.

More from DRC Afghanistan