New IRC report calls for specific actions to avert growing needs in Afghanistan, as almost half the population lives on less than one meal a day

By International Rescue Committee

New IRC report calls for specific actions to avert growing needs in Afghanistan, as almost half the population lives on less than one meal a day

A new IRC report confirms that the economic crisis that has engulfed Afghanistan since August 2021 is now the primary driver of persistent food insecurity threatening the survival of nearly 20 million Afghans, who are experiencing extreme hunger in the face of continuing political uncertainty and economic calamity.

Unemployment and poverty are now the greatest drivers of internal displacement. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) sees firsthand that humanitarian aid cannot replace a functioning economy and state. In Afghanistan, the collapse of both is driving 97 per cent of the population into poverty. The current humanitarian crisis could kill far more Afghans than in the past 20 years of war.

For the first time in almost a decade, some Afghans are experiencing famine. New analysis from the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) shows that 20,000 people are experiencing IPC 5 – the most extreme level of food insecurity. New assessment findings show that economic shocks, not conflict, COVID, or drought, are the most common challenge facing households and the most common driver of needs.

In response to these trends, Afghans are forced to turn to increasingly desperate coping mechanisms. 43% of Afghanistan’s population is living on less than one meal a day, levels of household debt are rising driven by the need to buy food, and reports of child marriage and labor, as well as organ sales, are rising.

Meanwhile, the escalating conflict in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on global food supplies. As the price of grain increases and seed oil imports are jeopardized, countries like Afghanistan are being pushed further towards famine.

Vicki Aken, IRC Afghanistan Director, said, “The fact that Afghanistan is facing record-high figures of food insecurity is an indictment of the policies adopted by the international community towards Afghanistan. Although we are nearing the end of the lean season, the country is still in the grips of one of the worst droughts in decades, which has severely hampered food production and left millions without a source of income. But it is the economic crisis that has pushed Afghans to the brink”.

The crisis in Afghanistan is evolving into a catastrophe of choice as the policies of international donors designed to economically isolate the Taliban are simultaneously collapsing the Afghan economy and pushing nearly 20 million Afghans into a state of acute food insecurity. The freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves, the grounding of the banking system, and the halting of development assistance, which financed most government services, have had swift and catastrophic impacts on ordinary Afghans. 90% of Afghans surveyed report food as their primary need. Between 2021 and 2022 the number of households reporting debt has risen from 78 to 82. The cause of rising family debt is easy to identify – the need to buy food.

At the same time, the role of women in society is continually called into question and it is becoming more difficult for them to access work. With over thirty years of experience in delivering humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, the IRC knows that women play a vital role in accessing the communities that need it most as they are the only people who can reach the most vulnerable, particularly women and children. Recent decrees on girls’ education and other restrictions are making it increasingly difficult for them to do so, and it is profoundly fearful that the situation could continue to deteriorate.

“This is a pivotal moment for Afghanistan; the world cannot afford to look away as its economy teeters on the brink of collapse and the progress of the last twenty years is lost. The international community can and should do much more to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of innocent Afghans, with action to avert Afghanistan’s slide into total economic collapse urgently needed.”

To date, the US and other Western governments have focused on providing humanitarian funding based on a famine prevention strategy, putting in place important humanitarian exemptions, and offering much-needed clarity on sanctions regimes at the bilateral and multilateral levels. However, the severity of the situation facing ordinary Afghans requires more than humanitarian solutions.

The report outlines key recommendations for immediate actions to support public service delivery and the humanitarian response, such as:

  • Fully fund the humanitarian appeal and quickly translate humanitarian donor pledges into funding for frontline responders and support their ability to operate.
  • Launch the UN’s Humanitarian Exchange Facility (HEF) as a temporary mechanism to provide liquidity.
  • Disperse the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) immediately to support critical service delivery, including health, livelihoods, agriculture, and education services that remain available; commit to replenishing the ARTF.

Steps needed towards international engagement in support of the Afghan economy include:

  • Urgently convene key stakeholders including IFIs, UN, and key donors on the Afghan economy.
  • Deploy technical assistance to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB).
  • Provide guidance and reassurance to the private and banking sector.