Written evidence submitted by the International Rescue Committee (AFG0055)
Women and children. They are really suffering from the hunger... The food prices go higher day by day and people are no longer able to buy food... The biggest challenge for women and children is the hunger now. Survival is their biggest challenge.” - IRC Emergency Support Officer working in Kabul
24.4 million Afghans, more than half the population, are in humanitarian need. Afghanistan is now home to the highest number of food-insecure people in the world. Nearly four times the number of people are in need of lifesaving humanitarian assistance compared to just three years ago. Two decades of development gains are unravelling and the current crisis could kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.
We welcome the UK’s efforts so far to support the humanitarian response. The allocation of £286 million for both the 2021 Flash Appeal and subsequently for the 2022 Humanitarian Response, as well as the hosting of the 2022 High-Level Pledging Conference, have been vital towards addressing immediate needs. However, humanitarian aid will not address the causes of this crisis.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been operational in Afghanistan for three decades, working today in 11 governorates. We see first-hand that while humanitarian aid saves lives, it cannot replace a functioning economy and state. The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator warned that if insufficient action is taken now to treat the causes, not just the symptoms of the crisis, next year humanitarian funding needs - already record-setting - could double to USD$10 billion.
The decision to suspend girls above the age of 13 from attending school is deplorable and a catastrophic step backwards for Afghan society. However, the human costs of holding the Afghan population to ransom over the positions of the Taliban is increasingly indefensible. Girls need and deserve to go to school - but they and their families also need and deserve access to clean water, food, and health care. The UK and other donors can and should do more to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of Afghans.
Afghanistan’s economic collapse is driving record humanitarian needs and extreme hunger. The sudden and almost total economic isolation Afghanistan experienced after August 2021, has driven a major fiscal contraction. This trend has had knock-on impacts across the economy, reducing public spending from around 55 per cent of GDP in 2020 to around 11 per cent post-Taliban takeover, drastically undermining public service provision. The sudden loss of civil servant incomes has heavily impacted aggregate income (a loss of approximately US$154.4m per month) putting pressure on sectors dependent on consumer spending. Now a vicious cycle is playing out across the country. Rising poverty is further reducing demand for goods forcing Afghan companies out of business, contributing to further unemployment. The impact has been swift and catastrophic for Afghanistan as demonstrated by levels of unemployment and hunger.
Women and girls are among the most affected by the crisis, with levels of gender-based violence exacerbated as a result of widespread male unemployment. Even before August, more than 7.4 million women and girls needed gender-based violence services. The Foreign Secretary committed to empower women and girls globally, yet without further action, we will fail achieving this in Afghanistan. Afghans who could support themselves and their families six months ago are now entirely dependent on aid to survive. Every week, more families are forced to make unimaginable choices to survive, including selling young daughters into marriage and sending children to work.
A new approach is needed. The policy approaches needed to slow and ultimately halt the humanitarian and economic freefall are challenging. Yet the chilling effect the decision on girls’ education is having on international engagement, including funding from the World Bank’s Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) planned to support essential services, is only working to ensure all Afghans, but particularly women and girls, pay twice for the Taliban’s actions. The UK, with its partners, should advance a range of actions to lay the groundwork for engagement with the de-facto authorities on the economy, which do not prejudice efforts to exert pressure on the Taliban, and can be expanded as political conditions allow. Without this intervention, the economic crisis and humanitarian needs will continue to deteriorate, outpacing the humanitarian response.
WHAT CAN THE UK GOVERNMENT DO?
For more information, contact Denisa Delic, Advocacy Director, IRC-UK: Denisa.Delic@rescue-uk.org