The long road to finding an end to Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis
Afghanistan is facing its most complex humanitarian crisis yet, resulting from the cascading impacts of four decades of conflicts and endemic poverty, and in more recent years, climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, and chronic foreign aid dependency. Today, 97% of all Afghans live below poverty line, and one in every three Afghans (or 14 million) face severe hunger. This report seeks to understand the complexities of Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. It revisits the humanitarian situation in the country in the pre-war and in-war periods, and makes a case for the donor community and international policymakers to collaborate in finding durable solutions to the crisis and avert its dangerous consequences for stability in the region and beyond.
In the 1970s, although Afghanistan relied heavily on foreign aid, displacement for protection or food security was rare. Afghans rarely abandoned their home villages in the rural regions. The country was self-sufficient in its agricultural needs and exported a variety of fresh and dried horticultural products to its immediate neighbourhood and beyond. At the time, the Afghan government was pursuing a “win-win” foreign policy that promoted regional economic cooperation to ensure prosperity across the underdeveloped regions of South Asia and Central Asia. The Afghan people understood that in order for poverty to be reduced and for them to be protected from the impacts of natural disasters such as floods, avalanches, droughts, and earthquakes, the country needed economic growth while fostering good relations with its neighbours. Humanitarian crises resulting from natural disasters were largely averted during this period. However, the former Soviet forces would soon invade Afghanistan in 1979 and occupy it for a decade. Years of war and violence weakened the resilience and coping mechanisms of the Afghan people, as most of them were forced into multiple waves of displacement in and out of Afghanistan.
Today’s massive humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan can be traced back to the 1990s, when the country’s state institutions collapsed and the once resilient nation suffered a decline first, when the mujahideen took over in the early 1990s and later, under the Taliban. It was in 1996 when the Taliban took over the helm, and began implementing strict Shariah rule that, for one, denied women and girls their basic human rights, including education and health care. Afghanistan sank into deeper poverty, violence, and uncertainty. Save for the presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and some other humanitarian organisations in the country, Afghanistan seemed to have been completely isolated from the rest of the international community. Soon, the Taliban and the al-Qaeda would mastermind the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States, from Afghan soil. After 9/11 The international community re-engaged with Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11, resulting in marked improvements in the country’s humanitarian situation. The Taliban regime collapsed in 2001, and the country scored progress in certain socioeconomic development indicators. Access to education, higher education, healthcare, and electricity multiplied, while improved infrastructure in both urban and rural districts enabled the Islamic Republic to respond more effectively to crises and natural disasters.
The Islamic Republic initiated water management projects to revitalise the agriculture and livestock sectors, providing jobs for the rural population. With the support of India, for example, the Salma Dam was constructed in the western province of Herat in 2016; it produced 42 MW of power and irrigated 75,000 hectares of farmland. The Islamic Republic also undertook regional connectivity projects amidst terrorist attacks by the Taliban. These included the following: the TAPI (Turkmenistan–Afghanistan– Pakistan–India) Pipeline; the CASA-1000 (Central Asia and South Asia transmission line); the TAP-500 (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan transmission line); Lapis Lazuli Transit, Trade, and Transport Route; Chabahar International Transport and Transit Corridor; Five-Nation Railway Corridor; Afghanistan Rail Network; Trans-Hindukush Road Connectivity Project; and Digital Silk Road. The gradual implementation of these projects provided jobs especially for the youth, and gave the people some sense of hope and optimism about their future. These were made possible by the security, development, and humanitarian assistance provided by the international community, including Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours. The Taliban, however, carried on with its terror campaign, deliberately disrupting the country’s hard-earned gains of the previous 20 years.
The study has been authored by M Ashraf Haidari