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Afghanistan: Spring Disaster Contingency Plan (Mar-Jun 2021)

Planned response to potential drought and other emergencies

Response objectives 

  • Save lives in the areas of highest multi-sectoral need through rapid provision of humanitarian support
  • Provide assistance to people in their places of origin to reduce suffering and the risk of displacement 
  • Analyse areas at highest risk of displacement and ensure preparedness for response in these locations
  • Ensure that vulnerable people with specific needs and/or reduced coping capacities have access to assistance that meets their needs

Planning assumptions

Recognising the multiple, overlapping challenges facing the people of Afghanistan as spring approaches – including a potential La Niña-driven drought, intensifying conflict, and ongoing COVID-19 challenges – the ICCT conducted a multi-sectoral analysis of likely needs across highly-impacted provinces. The analysis ranked the 25 most affected provinces as high, medium, or low risk, based on a range of weighted indicators including: precipitation, malnutrition, wheat production, vegetation, reliance on agriculture, food insecurity, reduced coping index scores, water quality, availability and access, household debt, and access to health services. Carrying out a multi-dimensional analysis across these wide-ranging indicators acknowledges that the environmental impacts of any potential drought will collide with other pre-existing vulnerabilities, impacting on people’s capacity to cope with new shocks and exacerbating existing humanitarian needs. 

This document is the first iteration of the Spring Disaster Contingency Plan and is based on the best available data, historical patterns and previous lessons learned. The intent of the plan is to highlight specific risks and the most urgent needs facing at-risk provinces from March-June, as currently projected. It is anticipated that the figures and the plans reflected in this document will be updated as new information becomes available, particularly with regard to the risk of displacement. This plan factors-in displacement due to conflict but it does not yet cover any potential additional displacement driven by the likely drought and other related needs. Further analysis is needed to identify potential high-risk locations for displacement and likely host communities.  

All numbers and activities outlined in this plan are a sub-set of the 2021 HRP. Funding towards requirements identified in this plan should be channelled through HRP partners. Total funding requirements for this plan are drawn from the HRP and are a sub-set of the overall ask fo $1.3 billion. Given the lack of funding committments for the 2021 HRP, early funding is urgently needed to allow the distribution of spring assistance that is aimed at preventing displacement. 

Planning scenario

Drought Risk: After low winter rainfall and high temperatures associated with a La Niña weather event, initial indicators suggest that drought-like conditions are likely over spring and will have significant impact across all regions of the country. Thin snowpack indicates there is likely to be less water available as a result of snow melt over the months ahead. A drought has not yet been officially declared and advocacy continues around the need for an early, evidence-based decision on this by the Government. Contingency planning is proceeding on the basis of worsening humanitarian need as a result of the La Niña weather pattern and is not dependent on a declaration, although it is likely that this would unlock additional funding opportunities. 

It is anticipated that the situation will have impact on both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture/livestock, as well as on availability of water for drinking, washing and sanitation. Mid-March through to the end of July will likely be the peak period during which drought impacts on crops and livestock (agricultural drought) would manifest. The wheat production deficit is expected to be -16 to -27 per cent this year as a result, requiring increased top-up from international suppliers. Current analysis indicates that 25 provinces, which are home to 27.7 million people, will see 13.2 million people in humanitarian in need during the spring planning period. Humanitarians plan to reach 7.4 million of those people with assistance, if funding is available.

Flood: Given the current climate outlook, flood risk will likely be reduced compared to normal years. While the likelihood of heavy river flows is lower than previous seasons, flash flooding due to sporadic spring storms remains a risk. It is anticipated approximately 120,000 people will be flood-affected from March to June 2021. 

Conflict: Spring is expected to see a volatile and unpredictable pattern of conflict. Continued and potentially escalating fighting is anticipated, in line with seasonal patterns of conflict each year, and dependent on progress with the peace talks and the planned draw-down of international military forces. Access challenges are expected in many affected areas due to active conflict and safety risks for staff.  Approximately 250,000 people are projected to be displaced due to conflict from March to June, which represents 50 per cent of those projected for all of 2021. 

COVID-19: The immediate and longer-term effects of the pandemic in Afghanistan will continue to be felt throughout spring. Community transmission of COVID-19 due to widespread complacency in the community regarding protective measures such as mask wearing and social distancing threatens to prolong the pandemic and may result in additional waves of infection over the planning period. This may lead to increased morbidity and mortality rates, as well as a return to local and/or regional lockdown measures. The spring response will be implemented simultaneously with the roll-out of the Government’s national vaccination campaign, although the exact timeline for reaching vulnerable people in affected areas remains to be confirmed. Due to limited public health resources and testing capacity, as well as the absence of a national death register, confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 are likely to be under-reported overall in Afghanistan and it is not currently possible to approximate how many people will be impacted by the pandemic between March and June.

Anticipated impact on the humanitarian situation

The impact of the potential drought, sporadic flooding, conflict and COVID-19 will vary across regions based on the degree to which these phenomena manifest and interact with pre-existing vulnerabilities in a given area. However, the following general trends are anticipated.

Food Insecurity and Malnutrition: There is a strong correlation between areas affected by potential drought and existing food insecurity and malnutrition. It is anticipated that the current dire food insecurity situation will be exacerbated by drought, making the existing support already planned under the HRP more urgent. To varying degrees, all current IPC 4 provinces will be impacted by the dry conditions. It is also possible that drought conditions will push a portion of the people currently living in IPC 3 into IPC 4, although this will need to be confirmed by the upcoming IPC analysis, with results due in April. There is a heavy overlap with high-risk provinces for malnutrition among both children and pregnant and lactating women (PLW). Increasing food insecurity and limited water availability will likely complicate current treatment for Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) and Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), pushing additional children and PLWs into severe need. Food affordability, rather than availability, may push families further into increased debt or to adopt other negative coping mechanisms. Prices are already elevated above pre-COVID prices and will likely rise further, while markets remain largely functional and accessible, suggesting that cash-based interventions should be an important part of the response. Price monitoring is a critical component of this plan.

Water and Health: A water scarcity crisis is unfolding. Water availability for livestock and agriculture, as well as for drinking and hygiene will be a challenge for impacted communities. This may involve walking longer distances to reach water sources that are available. Affected communities may need to expend additional resources to compensate for limited local water availability and/or poor water quality. Those who cannot afford to purchase water through private vendors may de-prioritise water for sanitation and hygiene, which in turn will increase risk of infectious and waterborne diseases, including COVID-19 and AWD. At the same time, limited existing or accessible healthcare is a high risk in the affected provinces. Scale-up of mobile health teams and health surveillance to deal with the health implications of the likely drought, disease and malnutrition in these locations will be important. This need will increase in the event of displacement.

People on the Move: It is too early to say whether additional displacement caused by the climate situation will be seen. The triggers for displacement in 2018-2019 included a combination of water availability, food affordability, interruptions to livelihoods, debt burdens and conflict. While it is not yet possible to accurately predict how these factors will manifest over the 2021 spring, these dimensions will be closely monitored. Given both historical trends and indications of intensifying conflict, half of this year’s projected conflict-related internal displacement (250,000 people) is expected to be recorded between March and June. Just over 230,000 undocumented and refugee returnees are expected to cross Afghanistan’s borders during this time and will require humanitarian assistance. Already, historically high numbers of people have returned from Iran through the Milak and Islam Qala border crossings in 2021 with additional surges anticipated over the Nawroz holiday in March and the Iranian election period in June. These returns will have implications for both COVID-19 transmission and the loss of remittances flowing back into Afghanistan.

Mine risk education will be critical for people who are on the move in unfamiliar areas, as will early action to prepare rental support options for those who displace into urban centres or who are at risk of eviction. Early efforts to secure land allocation agreements for those who are displaced will be critical if/when potential hot spots are identified.

Protection: High levels of poverty are likely to prompt the increased adoption of negative coping mechanisms presenting serious dangers for vulnerable people including women and children: GBV, early marriage, child labour, begging and recruitment by armed groups and additional debt accumulation. Children displaced into urban areas face increased risks from abuse. Displacement and economic stress may increase the risk of school drop-outs, in turn exposing children to further risks such as child labour as families struggle to survive. There are also additional risks posed by family separation and splitting. Adolescents may be sent abroad to work, exposing them to trafficking risks, while women and children may be left in displacement sites while family members return to their land to check on crops, exposing them to GBV and other safety risks. An early, coordinated GBV response that is mainstreamed across all sectors is essential, especially in overcrowded informal settlements. Mine risk education will be a life-saving tool to protect people on the move in new areas, where they are not familiar with the local dangers. The La Niña situation is expected to create new financial stress or displacement trauma, leaving people in increased need of psychosocial support. Many displaced people, and women more generally, may not have identity documents, affecting their ability to access services. Well-communicated referral pathways and service mapping are a priority. Exclusion of ethnic and minority groups from services must be monitored and mitigation measures introduced.

Flooding: While the impact of snow-melt flooding is expected to be lower than normal, spring storms are still expected to cause significant needs. People’s needs in the event of floods are usually shelter support to make their affected homes watertight (tarps, repair kits) and NFIs to replace household items that are lost or damaged. Availability of safe drinking water is often affected by flooding and water purification supplies are often needed. Reduced water quality also aids in the spread of disease, particularly AWD. Food is also needed by many when household supplies are lost and agricultural inputs often need to be replaced so as to allow for replanting after crops are destroyed. Animal fodder may also be required if destroyed by floods. The regions with the highest number of flood-affected people are expected to be the West and North, followed by the North East, East and South. 

Operation(s)/ Webspace(s): 
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Original Publication Date: 
04 Mar 2021
Document type: 
Humanitarian Programme Cycle
Needs Assessment
Strategic Planning
Coordination hub(s): 
National Level Coordination