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Afghanistan: Humanitarian Response Plan (2022)

Response Plan Overview

The 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan requests US$4.44 billion and aims to reach 22.1 million people in need of life-saving humanitarian support due to the consequences of decades of conflict, recurrent natural disasters, lack of recovery from past disasters and the added shock from the takeover of the government, subsequent sudden pause in international assistance and resulting economic shocks. The increase in the number of people to be reached with assistance, up from 17.7 million in 2021, is largely driven by the sharp increase in the number of people in acute food insecurity, the broad-based collapse in economic conditions and availability of basic services.

The response strategy in 2022 reflects the need to address immediate and catastrophic levels of need by delivering humanitarian assistance to 55 per cent of the population, while working closely with development partners to prevent a broader collapse of basic services that would increase humanitarian needs even further. The simultaneous crisis in rural livelihoods, due to the drought, and urban livelihoods, due to the economic shock, means that humanitarians will need to scale-up activities in nearly every part of the country, addressing both those who have been chronically in need and those whose coping mechanisms have been undermined. 

The response will aim to address the needs of people facing vulnerabilities such as extreme household debt burdens; mental and physical disability; the use of dangerous negative coping strategies; and those living in households headed by women, children or the elderly whose positions in society put them at a disadvantage. 

Following the extremely high levels of conflict and displacement in the first part of the year, the reduction in the level of conflict seen since August has allowed humanitarians has allowed humanitarians to sustainably access more areas of the country than in previous years. Humanitarians anticipate this will allow for more detailed assessments and analysis of needs, and better delivery of services into formerly “hard to reach” areas. Nonetheless, the deterioration of infrastructure, ongoing levels of violence and activities by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and the remote nature of many areas will remain a challenge. 

The response will also continue to emphasize the need to expand accountability to affected people (AAP) work, reinforce the importance of the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA), and strengthen gender equity, mental health and disability inclusion. Humanitarian systems will be strengthened through dedicated technical working groups on these themes. To ensure consistent engagement with the de facto authorities, maintain and expand access to all areas, and enable humanitarian organizations to deliver meaningful and needs-based response, harmonized operation and negotiation approaches will be guided by the joint operating procedures (JOPs), with support from the Humanitarian Access Group. 

At the time writing, cash liquidity continues to be a significant challenge to life and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, particularly given the suspension of loan packages by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and the freezing of the financial assets of the Central Bank of Afghanistan in light of the current political  crisis. The lack of liquidity within the formal financial sector has impacted the operations and functionality of banks, mobile money operators, and remittance exchange companies. A key challenge is the work around the banking and liquidity challenges that have made it difficult to move money into the country for programs, salaries and other core operational costs. The Humanitarian Cash and Voucher Working Group, supported by development partners and the wider UN system, is working to find ways to address these issues to ensure the ability of humanitarian actors to continue to work effectively and at scale. 

While the humanitarian planning scenario incorporates disruptions to both government-run and non-government run services that address basic human needs, including the national health care system, the scenario assumes that interim solutions to sustain minimum support in the key sectoral areas will continue in some form. Humanitarian response is interdependent on the continuation of elements of development programming or services that were provided under the previous government and which are now facing disruption and possible collapse. Avoiding further deterioration in humanitarian needs and the collapse of essential services is also contingent on preserving social investments and protecting community-level systems. All elements of the humanitarian response is dependent on an enabling environment for assistance, both domestically and internationally, that allows continued, principled engagement with all parties in support of all people in Afghanistan. 

In 2021, development and humanitarian organizations worked together to develop a common snapshot of overlapping needs given the multi-dimensional impacts of the crisis. This helped to inform not only the development of the HRP but also work on complementary plans to ensure that the basic services that enable humanitarian work and prevent even greater numbers of people from falling into critical need do not collapse. To this effect, humanitarian partners have worked closely with development actors in the UN system, the World Bank, Asia Development Bank and others to align the planning in the HRP with the UN Transitional Engagement Framework 2022 and other initiatives aimed at preventing the further the further deterioration of basic services in Afghanistan. It is estimated that an additional $3.5 billion will be required to sustain access to basic services and prevent development gains from being lost – a total financial requirement of nearly $8 billion, inclusive of the humanitarian response.

Crisis, Context and Impact

Political, social, demographic, economic profile

Following four decades of war and an already dire situation of increasing hunger, economic decline, price increases in food and other essential needs, and rising poverty over the past several years, in 2021 the people of Afghanistan faced intensified conflict, the withdrawal of international forces and then the takeover of the country by the Taliban in August. The resulting political, social and economic shocks have reverberated across the country with a severe deterioration of the humanitarian and protection situation in the fourth quarter of 2021 and the outlook for 2022 remaining profoundly uncertain.  

Afghanistan’s population is estimated to be 41.7 million in 2021, of whom 51 per cent are men and 49 per cent are women. A staggering 47 per cent of the population are under 15 years old, giving Afghanistan one of the highest youth populations in the world. With a projected population growth rate of 2.3 per cent per annum, one of the steepest in the region, the country’s financially-dependent youth population is set to grow even further. 

Population growth, internal displacement, higher-than-usual rates of cross-border return are contributing to increased strain on limited resources, livelihood opportunities and basic services, as well as an increase in protection risks especially for most at risk groups. It is estimated that there are more than 2.6 million Afghan refugees worldwide, which makes Afghans the third largest refugee population in the world. Additionally there are  more than 9.2 million people displaced by conflict inside the country.

Security environment

Following decades of war, intense conflict in the first seven months of 2021 brought severe harm to the people of Afghanistan. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), civilian casualties in the first half of 2021 reached record levels, with particularly sharp increase in killings and injuries since May 2021 when international military forces began their withdrawal and fighting intensified. 5,138 civilian casualties (1,659 killed and 3,524 injured) were recorded between January and June 2021 – a 47 per cent increase from the same period in 2020.

While the significant decrease of widespread armed conflict in most parts of Afghanistan after 15 August led to a drastic reduction in civilian casualties from ground engagements and airstrikes, UNAMA continued to document civilian casualties from improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war. From 15 August to 31 December 2021, UNAMA documented more than 1,050 civilian casualties, including more than 350 civilians killed.  

Close to 700,000 people were internally displaced by conflict in 2021 - 60 per cent children and 20 per cent women while close to 9.2 million people are estimated to remain in situations of forced displacement since 2012. Following the takeover in August, although violence overall has reduced, attacks by NSAG continue to occur, with violence associated with the Islamic State – Khorasan province (ISK) in particular increasing from 60 to over 300 attacks by November 2021. Further complicating the situation is the presence of explosive hazard contamination across the country, particularly improvised mines and explosive remnants of war, which continue to impact at least 1,500 Afghan communities.

Legal and policy issues

Following the takeover of the Government by the de facto authorities, the status of the legal system more broadly is in flux with a range of new policies being proposed, and the status of previous legal frameworks in doubt. 

The lack of government-issued identification documents continues to be a limiting factor for many of people in Afghanistan, blocking access to government services and increasing risk of statelessness. According to the 2021 Whole of Afghanistan assessment data, only 35 per cent of households (HH) reported that all HH members had a tazkira (identification card), while 31 per cent of households reported that no women had a tazkira, 63 per cent of displaced households reported that some HH members were missing a tazkira, while 3 per cent of displaced households said that nobody in the household has a tazkira. 

Similarly, land rights and tenure are a challenging issue. 40 per cent of the displaced households surveyed in the 2021 Whole of Afghanistan Assessment reported insecure tenure in their current shelter: verbal rental agreement, a Safayee notebook, or no rental agreement. This is a particularly serious challenge for those living in informal settlements where people lack land tenure, reducing their access to essential services and placing them at constant threat of eviction and negative coping mechanisms.

For issues around gender-based violence (GBV), despite the creation of the elimination of violence against women (EVAW) law, the judicial system still places an enormous burden on individual women to make the justice system work for them, rather than the system working on their behalf.

Lack of progress in passing proposed legislation on asylum continues to leave  refugees and asylum seekers in Afghanistan without the necessary legal framework to enable them to obtain necessary documentation to move freely throughout the country, work in the formal sector, pursue higher education, or enter into contracts, leaving them dependent on humanitarian assistance and remittances to meet basic needs. 

Infrastructure

Even prior to the August 2021 change in Government challenges stemming from under-investment in basic infrastructure continued to hamper quality of life and access to services throughout Afghanistan. Active conflict, large-scale population movements, recurrent natural disasters and the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the social and economic fabric of the country have hindered longer-term urban planning, reduced attention on more expensive durable solutions and diminished people’s access to essential services. 

The physical environment and lack of transport and communications infrastructure remain a challenge in Afghanistan, with road access impeded by conflict, the potential presence of explosive hazards, poor road conditions as well as natural hazards, including seasonal flooding and heavy snowfall. 

Less than half of all of Afghanistan’s districts have phone coverage throughout the district, and disruptions remain common in many areas. The picture regarding access to electricity across Afghanistan is mixed. The United States International Development Agency (USAID) estimates that only 30 per cent of Afghans have access to electricity, while figures from Afghanistan Transparency Watch claim it may be 65 per cent. Regardless of these estimates, sustained and reliable access to electricity is an ongoing issue for many Afghans. Electricity supplies have been especially unreliable since 2020 including in Kabul. The recent financial crisis and drought have further impacted on the reliability and availability of electricity in many areas of the country. 

Natural environment/disaster risk

While conflict and insecurity were the primary drivers of displacement up until August 2021, natural disasters and environmental risks are becoming an increasing driver of underlying need. 

A national drought was officially declared in June 2021, the worst in more than three decades. 80 per cent of the country is now suffering from either severe or serious drought. This historic drought, brought on by exceptionally low precipitation in 2020-2021, has added to a long silent water crisis and put additional pressure on water resources already strained from population growth (for example in the densely populated cities of Kabul, Kandahar and Herat where 66 per cent of country’s urban population live). Groundwater levels have progressively lowered across the country – in Kabul going from eight meters below land in 2003 to 45 meters in 2021. Even the aquifers in the central region have been affected by a water scarcity crisis currently impacting two-thirds of the country. Overall, the dwindling of the water levels is resulting in the drying up of hand-dug wells, springs, kariz, boreholes and streams.

Rural areas, and particularly farming and livestock rearing households, have been hard hit by the 2020-21 drought. The drought is driving food insecurity, and in addition to grain deficits and livestock deaths in both rainfed and irrigated areas. 
This is devastating to many households who are still reeling from the crippling effects of the 2018-19 drought and have not had the opportunity to recover, given the cumulative impacts of war and chronic poverty. 

In addition to the drought, more than 29,000 people in 13 provinces were affected by other natural disasters – mostly floods – throughout Afghanistan in 2021. 

Afghanistan has an INFORM Risk Index of 6.8, the fifth highest risk country out of 190 profiled. At the same time, the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index ranks it as the 11th least prepared country against climatic shocks and the 10th most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. With its placement in a seismically active region, Afghanistan remains highly susceptible to catastrophic damage due to earthquakes – particularly across a number of densely populated urban areas along the Chaman, Hari Rud, Central Badakhshan, and Darvaz faults. Each of these faults is capable of producing 7 or 8 Magnitude earthquakes. In the last 10 years, more than 7,000 people have lost their lives because of earthquakes in Afghanistan, with an average of 560 fatalities per year. A contingency plan developed by the Inter-Cluster Coordination Team (ICCT) in late  2020 estimates that if an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude were to strike the seismically risky area between Kabul and Jalalabad, up to 7 million people would be impacted in the areas of worst shaking, throwing three million of the most vulnerable people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Response by Strategic Objective

SO1: Timely, multi-sectoral, life-saving, equitable and safe assistance is provided to crisis-affected people of all genders and diversities to reduce mortality and morbidity.

This strategic objective is focused on the provision of urgent, emergency assistance to ensure people’s survival and to prevent mortality. This objective combines life-saving responses to all kinds of shocks – reflecting the increasingly multi-dimensional nature of the humanitarian emergency. This strategic objective is concerned with addressing critical problems related to physical and mental wellbeing, as well as critical problems related to living standards.

SO2: Protection risks are mitigated, while protection and human rights needs for people of all genders and diversities are monitored and addressed through integrated and inclusive humanitarian action.

This strategic objective encapsulates responses to the major threats to protection, human rights violations and continued violence faced by people in Afghanistan every day. This strategic objective is concerned with protection and includes efforts to address critical problems related to physical and mental wellbeing. 

SO3: Vulnerable people of all gender and diversities are supported to build their resilience and live their lives in dignity.

This objective prioritizes action to assist the most vulnerable in the community, irrespective of when, if or how they were impacted by a shock. It recognizes the struggle faced by people in Afghanistan due to repeated displacement and their depleted psychological and financial reserves, and the need to facilitate durable solutions where possible. This strategic objective is concerned with addressing critical problems related to living standards and critical problems related to coping mechanisms.

Operation(s)/ Webspace(s): 
Organization(s): 
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Original Publication Date: 
11 Jan 2022
Document type: 
Strategic Response Plan
Location(s): 
Afghanistan
Theme(s): 
Needs Assessment
Strategic Planning
Coordination hub(s): 
National Level Coordination