It can be difficult to relate to the gigantic and frightening numbers that, in their own objective way, frame the nightmare currently unfolding in the Central Asian country of Afghanistan. Still, it's worth a try if you want to understand the scale of what – despite recent events in Europe – is described as one of the world's largest humanitarian disasters right now. Here are the figures:
These figures are from the UN World Food Programme, one of DRC's closest humanitarian partners in Afghanistan.
Forced to flee deadly attacks
The disaster in Afghanistan is unfolding after more than four decades of devastating war and conflict. Over time, fighting across the country has left thousands of mines and unexploded ordnance that demand new victims every day – the vast majority are children. Hospitals and basic infrastructure are destroyed or out of function. And nearly 3.5 million people are internally displaced.
Many have been forcibly displaced by attacks in their local areas. Like 49-year-old Waheed and his family, who fled their place of residence following an airstrike in 2020:
"It was the worst experience of my life. My young son, only 22 years old, lost his right leg. He now has to live with this disability forever."
Since international forces left Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 and the Taliban took power, active acts of war have subsided and, like many others, Waheed and his family have returned to their hometown. With the support of the Danish Refugee Council, Waheed has rebuilt the family's house, and is now trying to create a sustainable livelihood.
Selling garbage to survive
For others, active acts of war is not the main cause of displacement. Severe natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, avalanches, landslides and recurring droughts are causing massive internal displacement in Afghanistan.
One of the many displaced by drought is Aimal. He is 11 years old and solely responsible for providing for his 6 younger siblings, his mother and himself. The family has no income, so every day Aimal goes to the city to beg and sell garbage for recycling. The small change he earns for his efforts is spent on bread and potatoes for his family.
Jared Rowell, country director DRC Afghanistan
Elsewhere in the country, 57-year-old Kubra is struggling to keep her family alive. She is a widow and lives with seven other adults and children in a single room in the Afghan province of Bamiyan. The family has had a hard time keeping warm in winter, as oil prices have skyrocketed. In addition to this, the flour stock that has kept them alive for months is running low.
"We got two sacks of flour last spring that we still use. After that, God help us."
Extreme drought followed by harsh sanctions
Although Kubra is not displaced by drought like Aimal, or by war like Waheed, all three of them are part of the vast majority who go to bed hungry on a daily basis. A majority that has grown every day since the summer of 2021, and which has now reached a staggering 95 percent out of the country's 40+ million inhabitants.
The conflict affected population of Afghanistan has been struggling with poverty and food shortages for decades. The explanation for the now full-blown hunger disaster can be found in last year's events.
An extreme drought season in the spring and summer of 2021 – the worst in 27 years – led to crop failures and skyrocketing food prices across the country. When international forces left the country, and the Taliban took power on August 15, massive international sanctions followed. Sanctions that hampered humanitarian emergency relief and lasting solutions for drought-stricken Afghan families.
Desperate strategies of survival
The drastic events fuel the bonfire that, little by little, is eating at the Afghani’s capacity for dignified self-preservation, says country director Jared Rowell.
"Decades of war, poverty and hunger have worn out the majority of the population. They know no other reality than one of daily struggle for survival. And now, with these extra challenges, we see how more and more people are losing both options and resilience to sustain life in a dignified and safe way."
While some simply give up as their strength wears out, others resort to desperate and dangerous survival strategies such as organ sale or child marriage. Others, in turn, attempt enrichment crimes in the form of extortion, robberies and abductions – adding another dangerous dimension to the disaster with lawless conditions in several parts of the country.
Jared Rowell, country director DRC Afghanistan
DRC ensures access and provides life-saving assistance
With more than half the population under the age of 18, Afghanistan is one of the youngest nations in the world. The children, many of whom are orphans, are at great risk of exploitation. They do not have the same opportunities for self-sufficiency, and they are particularly vulnerable to hunger, disease, injury and trauma. Therefore, DRC's disaster response in Afghanistan is largely aimed at protecting the survival, rights and dignity of children.
In close cooperation with other humanitarian organizations, we provide relief packages, crisis assistance and materials for shelter. One of our major crisis efforts is the distribution of cash to vulnerable families, to buy what they need most.
"Our 640 local staff work every day to ensure access and deliver life-saving relief and protection to the most vulnerable – including, of course, the children who need special help and care. It's an uphill battle, but we will keep going," says country director Jared Rowell.
DRC right now delivers emergency assistance and humanitarian mine action in remote and crisis-affected communities across 11 provinces of Afghanistan.
With active fighting subsiding in Afghanistan since troop withdrawal and change of power dynamics in 2021, people are returning home to areas that used to be battlefields. Houses in ruins and assets lost is what often meets them.
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