The world must not forget about Afghanistan’s crisis – time is running out
Poverty is widespread, malnutrition is on the rise and basic services are on their last legs. Governments and the media cannot ignore the plight of Afghanistan’s people, says Tufail Hussain, Director of Islamic Relief.
Two years since the international community pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over, the world has fallen silent, ignoring the ongoing crisis that is ravaging communities.
I visited the country nearly two years ago to see the reality for myself – what I saw was harrowing. There were scores of families sitting by the side of the road, selling the few possessions they had, in the hope they might be able to afford to feed their children.
Children as young as five were begging for food, while some parents made the heartbreaking decision to send their children to other relatives who had more resources to care for them.
That little has changed over the last two years, while the international community has overlooked this crisis, is nothing short of shameful.
Media attention must not fade away
The situation in Afghanistan is desperate and people are in the middle of a humanitarian disaster. Poverty is widespread, malnutrition is on the rise as people cannot afford to feed their families, and basic services are on their last legs.
Islamic Relief is still in the country, providing life-saving health and nutrition for mothers and their children, as well as longer-term support for farmers, and cash assistance as the country struggles with hunger.
Unfortunately, funding is drying up as international attention fades. This means food and nutrition aid to millions of vulnerable people has been cut, pushing increasing numbers of people into hunger.
Our in-country team has reported that the situation on the ground is dire. It is estimated that this year 875,000 children will suffer from acute malnutrition, and a further 2.3 million will suffer from moderate acute malnutrition. At least 40 per cent of the population are already experiencing food insecurity in 2023.
A culture of fear and neglect
When I last visited in the winter of 2021, I met a woman whose children would sometimes have to go three to four days without food. Without meaningful action from the international community, Afghanistan’s hunger crisis will only get worse.
Our colleagues report that although food is available in the country, many people cannot afford to buy it as the current sanction regime has crippled the banking sector, leaving little to no money in the system.
Some basic products have doubled in price and unemployment has soared, which is compounded by the fact women are now barred from certain jobs. Many had acted as the main breadwinner for their family; in being unable to work, their families will suffer.
More generally, the restrictions placed on Afghan women are appalling and speak to the brutality of the Taliban administration, which is creating a culture of oppression, fear and persecution for half the nation’s population. The fallout of this will harm an entire generation of women.
Against this backdrop, more and more people are being driven into poverty. Many families have been forced to pull children from school so they can work and contribute to the household income. Some 95 per cent of the population now either live in poverty or are expected to fall into poverty this year – a truly haunting figure.
International help does make a difference
The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan was put together by the UN as a framework to deliver the vital assistance that Afghanistan needs. Despite being over halfway through 2023, the plan is just 24.8 per cent funded, meaning many critical life-saving projects cannot be undertaken as the crisis intensifies.
After decades of conflict, extreme weather events, and strict sanctions, the economy is on its knees. The international community needs to realise its responsibility and ensure that the Humanitarian Response Plan is properly funded as soon as possible.
Despite the enormous current challenges, when aid is funded, it has a significant positive impact. Since the Taliban’s takeover, Islamic Relief’s work with the UN Development Programme has helped bring more Afghan women into employment to afford food for their families, and small-scale farmers have been supported with irrigation systems and flood defences, increasing their productivity by 59 per cent.
The international community needs to re-focus on Afghanistan and take a long-term approach that resumes development assistance and stimulates the economy. Tentative attempts to engage with the Taliban should also be considered – if only to help ensure more aid gets to where it is vitally needed.
From the UK perspective, we invested a significant amount of funds and resources to support the Afghan people prior to 2021 – it would be a shame if our hard work comes to nothing.
After two years, the world may have moved on from Afghanistan, yet the crisis endures. It is crucial we all now remember the plight of the Afghan people and do what must be done to help them in their time of need.