Looming humanitarian disaster

A perfect storm of protracted war, drought and pandemic is now threatening millions of Afghans. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is sounding the alarm: if help fails to materialize, a great many people will freeze and starve to death.

“Afghanistan is on the verge of collapse. If we don’t act now, it will have catastrophic consequences,” says Astrid Sletten, who leads NRC’s work in the country.

“Millions of people have no idea how they will be able to put food on the table or where their children will be sleeping in the coming weeks and months. Winter will soon be upon us, and it is becoming urgent to reach those who need assistance.”

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Read caption The families who have sought refuge in the capital Kabul now rely on food, water, blankets, tents and other equipment that they receive from the local population. The picture shows one of the water points installed by a local aid organization in Azadi Park. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC


Seeking refuge in a park

“Many people have sought refuge in the larger cities. Thousands now live in tents, under tarps or simply in the open air in Kabul’s parks. I met several of these families this week, and they will not survive long without help,” says Sletten.

A woman with her 10 month old daughter on her arm.
Read caption Zahra Omari and her six children fled from the Bandar Khan Abad area in Kunduz province to the capital Kabul, where she has sought refuge in one of the city’s parks, like so many other displaced families. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC


Zahra Omari fled to Kabul from Kunduz province with her six children. She and her family are one of many living in Kabul’s parks.

“When the other families in my neighborhood fled in a rush, I took my six children and fled for my life. I didn’t even manage to bring milk for my 10-month-old daughter. We found a bus going to Kabul that had the seats removed to cram as many people as possible inside. It was full of frightened men, women and children,” she says.

We will continue our work

During the change of power in the country, NRC was forced to put its humanitarian aid work on hold temporarily.

“We are now resuming our work. It is crucial to take care of the children and get them back in school, but we are also preparing to help more families get a roof over their heads before winter comes,” Sletten says.

“We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. To prevent a humanitarian disaster, we must have more funding to provide shelter, water, food, medicine and sanitation assistance to everyone who needs it,” says Sletten. “The security situation must improve both for those we hope to help and for our employees.”

According to Sletten, there is now a window of a maximum of two months to get the necessary funding in place to be able to help.

NRC has been in Afghanistan since 2003. We have 1,600 Afghan employees and work in 14 provinces across the country. Last year we reached 762,076 people with life-saving assistance. Read more about our work in Afghanistan.

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