Crisis in Afghanistan

Crisis in Afghanistan

Lara Kajs | 28 March 2023

(Part 2 in a Series on Crises to Watch in 2023)
Since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, human rights in Afghanistan, and the humanitarian situation have considerably worsened. Ongoing efforts to engage the de facto government and improve the economy have come to a standstill, sending the crisis in Afghanistan into a deeper downward spiral. Conflicts between security forces and armed groups continue. The entire population is living in poverty, and the future of women and girls hangs in the balance.

Humanitarian Need

Afghanistan’s population is estimated to be 41.3 million. The country has one of the highest youth populations in the world. Approximately forty-seven percent are under fifteen years of age. Some forty-nine percent of the population are women and girls. At least 28.3 million – nearly two-thirds of the population – are in dire need of humanitarian assistance in order to survive.

In previous years, humanitarian necessity was driven by conflict. In 2023, the key drivers of humanitarian need are multidimensional and include economic decline, protection threats – particularly for women and girls, drought, climate change, and natural disasters. Nevertheless, conflict and the lingering effects of war, including recent large-scale displacement, continue to prevent people from developing resilience and moving toward recovery and solutions.

With the collapse of the previous government, there was a suspension of direct international development assistance, including US $9.5 billion in central bank reserves and loans being frozen. International development aid accounted for seventy-five percent of public spending including public health. The impact has been devastating. Under Taliban rule, the country has witnessed a drastic increase in both urban and rural poverty, a sharp rise in inflation, and a near-collapse of the public health system. People are unable to afford basic human services.

Economic Decline

Afghanistan is entering the second year of economic decline. High levels of unemployment and a surge in the cost of food and products have caused the average household’s debt to rise. While an increase in humanitarian relief in 2022 prevented catastrophe, it has not thwarted the crisis in 2023.

Furthermore, the country is simultaneously entering its third consecutive year of inadequate rainfall and drought-like conditions. At least seventeen million people face acute hunger in 2023, including six million at the emergency level of food insecurity: one step from famine. Prone to natural disasters, in June 2022, an earthquake claimed the lives of at least 1100 people and injured thousands of others.

Disruption to markets, and financial and trade systems, contribute to the crisis. In addition to unimaginable human costs, the humanitarian crisis is reversing much of the progress of the last twenty years, including those surrounding the rights of women and girls.

Rights of Women and Girls

Decrees issued by the Taliban have made Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places on earth for women and girls, almost completely excluded from public life. The situation for women and girls has reverted to that of the pre-2002 era when the Taliban controlled the country, effectively erasing twenty years of progress in women’s human rights.

On 24 December 2022, a directive barring women from working for national and international NGOs has proven to have a devastating humanitarian impact on millions of people across the country. Millions of vulnerable women and girls are prevented from receiving lifesaving assistance and services.

The Taliban has banned women and girls from entering parks, public baths, gyms, and sports clubs. Women have been banned from the workplace. Girls have been excluded from attending high school and women have been barred from attending university. And although the Taliban says the directives are temporary, many believe it is permanent.

The UN Security Council expressed concerns over the expectations of the Taliban and the lack of progress it has made, including the “full, equal, and meaningful participation of women and girls in society.”

Like Living in a Prison

For two decades, Afghan women and girls made advances toward fulfilling their human rights. Now, they are denied their fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to education and work. Many are unable to have their basic needs met, including access to medical healthcare and psychological support, especially for victims of violence and sexual violence. They are denied freedom of movement and are not permitted to travel more than seventy-five km without a family member. They are compelled to stay at home. Afghan women and girls do not enjoy freedom from fear and discrimination and are required to adhere to a strict dress code. Women throughout the country have reported feeling isolated, suffocated, and invisible. They feel they are living in a prison.

Commitments were made to support Afghan women to help them rebuild their lives in the post-conflict reconstruction of the country. The international community said that Taliban restrictions on Afghan women and girls had been an insult to all standards of dignity, equality, and humanity. In less than a few months after the Taliban assumed control, women and girls have been reduced to property.

UN Mission Renewed

On 17 March 2023, the United Nations extended its mission to Afghanistan through March 2024. UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) adopted two resolutions drafted by UAE and Japan on the best way to work in the Taliban-ruled country. However, the resolutions do not change the mandate “In promoting peace and stability” in Afghanistan. At the same time, the UN made its single largest country appeal for aid, asking for $4.6 billion to deliver aid to Afghanistan in 2023.

At the root of the problem, is the inability to engage the de facto government – the Taliban. The international community has not agreed on a plan to address the economic collapse in Afghanistan and the unwillingness of the Taliban to cooperate, even for the sake of the people, leaves the country in peril.

Photo Credit: Afghanistan earthquake response, June 2022 by Tasnim News Agency. Licensed under CC by 4.0.

Read Part 1: The Crisis in the Horn of Africa