Read caption Hundreds of displaced families from northern Kunduz, Takhar, Badakhshan and Balkh provinces arrive in Kabul. Photo: Enayatullah Azad / NRC, 11 August 2021.

Afghanistan on the brink of major humanitarian crisis

Published 13. Aug 2021
Escalating conflict is increasing suffering and humanitarian needs for millions of Afghans across the country.

“We are bracing ourselves for a major humanitarian crisis. Terrified families have been fleeing into Kabul in the past days. Camps are overcrowded and children are sleeping out in the open. Families are fighting over food. We fear this situation is being replicated across the country at an unprecedented pace,” said Tracey Van Heerden, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s acting country director in Afghanistan.

One mother, Zahra Omari, fled to Kabul from Kunduz province with her six children: “When people started fleeing, I took my children and fled. I didn’t even take milk for my 10-month-old daughter. We found a bus going to Kabul that had removed the seats to cram as many people as possible inside. It was full of frightened men, women and children.”

The impact of increasing levels of violence between Taliban and government forces in recent days is forcing thousands to uproot and flee to safety. An estimated 390,000 people have been displaced since the start of the year, according to the United Nations, but actual numbers could be far higher.

Escalating fighting has also made it more difficult and dangerous for aid organizations to assist families most in need. “Eighty per cent of our projects are affected by the ongoing conflict, impacting of the delivery of critical aid to over 900,000 Afghans. But we are committed to stay and deliver. While Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for us to operate in, it is more important than ever that aid agencies can reach communities as the conflict escalates,” said Van Heerden.

NRC teams on the ground are working around the clock, but the speed and escalation in fighting has surprised everyone. Civilians, including NRC staff, have been forced to hunker down as conflict has escalated around them, with many fleeing to safer areas as soon as it is safe to do so.

Previously displaced people who fled their homes because of earlier violence have not been spared by the latest fighting. In Shahrak-e-Sabz, one of the largest displacement settlements in the west of the country, families fear the nighttime when conflict escalates around them. Mortars recently injured a young boy and damaged shelters at the site.

In areas where NRC operates, more than a third of districts have changed territorial control. NRC also works in half of the provincial centers that have changed territorial control or remain highly contested.

“Now more than ever it is critical that parties to conflict uphold their obligations to protect civilians, including humanitarian workers, and civilian infrastructure like schools and hospitals,” said Van Heerden.

Facts and figures:

  • Nearly 390,000 people have been displaced by the latest violence since January, bringing the total number of people displaced to 3.5 million.
  • Over 1,000 people have been killed or injured due to indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Hilmand, Kandahar and Hirat provinces in the last month alone.
  • Fighting across the country has claimed the lives of over 40,000 people since 2009. 
  • The United Nations aid appeal for Afghanistan calls for US 1.3 billion to help people in need, but has only been 38% funded.

Note to editors:

  • Photos, stories and quotes from newly displaced families are available to download free here.

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