The United Kingdom, Germany, Qatar and the United Nations are co-hosting a virtual, ministerial-level, international, pledging summit for Afghanistan, today. It aims to raise USD 4.4 billion for lifesaving humanitarian support to 22.1 million Afghans who are at “immediate and catastrophic levels of need.” Afghanistan’s Taleban government, in power since August 2021 but not recognised by any state is, notably, not among the invitees. In this report, AAN’s Roxanna Shapour and Kate Clark have been looking at what is in the Humanitarian Response Plan, and what is not there, and at potential problems hanging over the conference like last week’s Taleban ban on secondary schooling for girls, which for donors could complicate the provision of aid beyond the strictly humanitarian.A boy pushes his wheelbarrow after he gets aid from a charity on the outskirts of Kabul. Photo: Wakil Kohsar / AFP, January 2022
This report looks at two questions in detail. Firstly: What is in the Humanitarian Response Plan? We go into some detail, bringing the highlights from this 150 page document, looking at sectoral activities, beneficiaries and noted problems with access and operational capacity. We also outline highlights from the separate bid for funding for refugees.
The second half of the report looks at what is not being asked for at this conference, ie assistance beyond the humanitarian. We look at how, for donors, such apolitical aid is what they feel they can manage – and have an obligation to provide, but how Afghanistan’s more fundamental needs continue to remain largely unaddressed. These needs are acknowledged, in the Humanitarian Response Plan and in UNAMA’s Transitional Emergency Framework. However, the wider political context – donors’ antipathy towards a government which has taken power by force and against which existing US and UN sanctions applied, together with restrictions on women and girls and a crackdown on dissent and the media – make it difficult for donors to feel they can do more at this stage. The Taleban, for their part, are also not prepared to compromise on what they see as their principles and Afghanistan’s sovereignty.
What is in the Humanitarian Response Plan?
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) launched the 150-page long 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) on behalf of humanitarian organisations working in Afghanistan in January. It requests USD 4.4 billion in assistance – the UN’s largest appeal ever for a single country – to support 22.1 million people in need, up from 17.7 million in 2021. A little over half, USD 2.66 billion, is envisioned for food security and agriculture (see breakdown by sector and population group below).
Planned Humanitarian Response by Sector
Source: 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP)
|Sector||People in Need||Planned Reach||% Targeted||Cost per beneficiary (USD)||Cost per Beneficiary in 2021(USD)||Financial Requirements (USD)|
|Emergency shelter and non-food items (ES/NFI)||10.9M||1.9M||18%||193||109||374.0M|
|Food Security and Agriculture||24.0M||21.6M||90%||123||39||2.66B|
|Aviation|| || || || || ||85.0M|
|Coordination|| || || || || ||26.6M|
Planned Humanitarian Response by Demographics in 2022 and 2021
Source: 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) and 2018-21 HRP (revised in 2021)
|Planned Response by population group|
|Population group||People in need 2022||Planned reach 2022||People in need 2021||Planned reach 2021|
|Vulnerable people with humanitarian needs||23.8M||22.1M (93%)||16.9M||13.8M (81%)|
|Cross-border returnees||785.4K||592.1K (75%)||714K||714K (100%)|
|Internally displaced people||504.4K||504.4K (100%)||705K||679 (96%)|
|Shock-affected non-displaced people||150K||150K (100%)||500K||450K (90%)|
|Refugees and asylum seekers||72.4K||72.3K (99%)||72K||72K (100%)|
|Persons with disabilities||2.0M||1.8M (90%)||1.5M||1.3M (86%)|
|Planned Response by Gender|
|Boys||6.8M||6.2M (91%)||5.1M||4.3M (84%)|
|Girls||6.3M||5.7M (90%)||4.7M||3.9M (84%)|
|Men||5.8M||5.2M (90%)||4.6M||4M (87%)|
|Women||5.5M||5.0M (91%)||4.1M||3.5M (85%)|
|Planned Response by Age|
|Children (0-17)||13.1M||11.9M (91%)||9.7M||8.2M (85%)|
|Adults (18-64)||10.6M||9.6M (90%)||8.2 M||7.1M (87%)|
|Elders (65+)||657K||591K (90%)||505K||436K (86%)|
The response plan is an attempt to address the enormous increase in the number of Afghans in need of humanitarian assistance, including because of an unprecedented hike in acute food insecurity and decline in basic services, including health and education, which the plan says, has led to a need to:
[S]cale-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…. [including] 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.
Strategic objectives of the Humanitarian Response Plan
There are three strategic objectives for humanitarian activities in Afghanistan in 2022 (emphases added):
- Reduce illness and death through humanitarian assistance to all Afghans in need by providing emergency shelter (usually tents or tarpaulins and ropes), water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), health, education, psychosocial, protection, and non-food items such as blankets, plastic sheets, buckets, jerry cans, cooking pots, and soap) to 21 million people. Alleviate hunger and malnutrition through food distributions (both in-kind and cash-based) and mother and child feeding programmes to address severe and moderate acute malnutrition (SAM and MAM) for 21.56 million people. Decrease illness and death from preventable diseases, outbreaks, and trauma as well as reproductive and mental health services through WASH and health services and de-mining for 14.4 million people.
- Ensure that all beneficiaries have dignified and equal access to humanitarian support regardless of ethnicity and gender and that aid workers have safe access to beneficiaries. In addition, this objective will prioritise protection from gender-based violence (GBV), sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) and safeguarding children through mainly community-based mechanisms because state-run protection mechanisms have collapsed.
- Address the underlying causes of humanitarian need by providing livelihoods support to vulnerable households to help them become more resilient in the future, such as providing rural communities with agricultural inputs and livestock regardless of ethnicity and gender. This includes providing essential services, such as WASH and education, to internally displaced people as well as returnees from Iran and Pakistan.
Planned response by sector
Humanitarian activities will be carried out by UN agencies and NGOs organised into groups called ‘clusters’, with each cluster working in one or more of seven sectors:
- Emergency Shelter And Non-Food Items
- Food Security And Agriculture
Each cluster developed an annual plan after conducting an evidence-based assessment of needs called the Humanitarian Needs Overview, or HNO (see the 2022 HNO here). The HNO is then used to inform sectoral plans for the humanitarian response. The following section provides a brief overview of the planned response, sector by sector.
The Humanitarian Response Plan aims to provide schooling to 1.5 million children through Community-Based Education (CBE), which sees out-of-school children, especially girls, attend classes in community buildings, houses and sometimes mosques. This includes Accelerated Learning Classes (ALCs) which offer a condensed curriculum, in this case, two school years in each calendar year, and Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS), which provide displaced children with the ability to keep up with their schooling for one academic year, or until they can re-enrol in formal education. There is also support in the plan for some government schools to repair/rehabilitate buildings, but no general support for the state education system, such as paying teachers’ salaries.
Taleban officials had promised to allow older girls to resume their education from the start of the new school year, on 23 March 2022, following the Taleban’s closure of most secondary schools for girls after they took power. This promise was made in the face of enormous pressure from parents, teachers, Afghan women’s rights activists and donors. Taleban officials have highlighted the need for international support to get the education sector (as well as other sectors) up and running. “Education for girls and women ‘is a question of capacity,'” Taleban spokesperson and deputy culture minister Zabiullah Mujahed told the Associated Press in a 15 January interview (see here). Speaking on the sidelines of the Oslo meeting (see below) on 26 January, the Emirate’s Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, also highlighted Taleban expectations that international support would be forthcoming: “From these meetings we are sure of getting support for Afghanistan’s humanitarian, health and education sectors.” (see here).
This anticipation of support for schools came even though the Taleban have prioritised education spending in their budget and appear to have funds available. The donors, for their part, have also committed to support the Afghanistan Education Sector Transitional Framework (AESTF), a two-year programme to keep Afghan children who have been left out of school as a result of recent events, displacement or natural disasters in education, meaning that the USD 162 million requested for education in the Humanitarian Response Plan had been due to be fully funded. However, the Taleban’s abrupt decision on 23 March to keep older girls out of education after all may make donors question giving funds that could support a discriminatory public education environment, particularly where the response plan envisions support for some public schools to repair/rehabilitate buildings (see AAN’s report on the ban on secondary education for girls).
Emergency Shelter and Non-Food Item (ES-NFI)
The response plan envisions supporting 1.9 million of the 10.9 million people in need, ie 10 per cent, with emergency and transitional shelter (tents, tarpaulins and pre-fabricated housing), non-food items, shelter repairs and winterisation. However, the response plan highlights that in the past, funding for this cluster has been “sub-optimal.” In 2021, according to UNOCHA’s Financial Tracking System (FTS), the ES-NFI cluster received USD 50 million, or less than half of the USD 109.2 million it had requested (see FTS data here). Available funding has been used for “less expensive, short-term emergency responses.” For example, in 2021, only one per cent of the people who were assisted and in 2020, only three per cent received shelter repairs or upgrades. In 2022, the cluster aims to increase its activities and reach significantly to include more Afghans in need, particularly in areas that were previously inaccessible because of the conflict, including Helmand, Farah, Nimruz, Uruzgan, Nuristan, Laghman and Maidan Wardak.
Food Security and Agriculture
Afghan families are experiencing unprecedented difficulties in getting adequate, affordable food. This food insecurity is a consequence of the conflict, two years of severe drought and poor harvests, and the economic collapse in the wake of the Taleban takeover of the country. According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, which made predictions about food insecurity for the period November 2021 to March 2022, the number of people facing critical levels of food insecurity (IPC phase 3 or above) was expected to reach 22.8 million, or 55 per cent of the population. That was nearly 35 per cent higher than the same period last year (16.9 million people).
This cluster plans to provide food and livelihood support to 21.6 million people who are in IPC Phase 3 or above (17.9 million people in rural areas and 4.9 million in urban areas). This will include support to farmers, herders and the landless for local food production with seeds (wheat, maize, pulses, fertilizers), animal feed and support for backyard gardens for women. The provision of seeds may be particularly important as AAN has heard (unconfirmed) reports that some farmers have used the seeds saved for planting for food, while others may not be able to afford to buy them.
There will also be support-term income support, for example, through cash for work schemes. Cash distributions to two million people are also planned either as unconditional grants to households headed by women, people with disabilities or the elderly, or as cash for work schemes to rehabilitate or build individual or community assets such as irrigation canals or watering points. There are also plans to provide people in urban areas with vocational training in carpentry, embroidery, plumbing, and computers.
Since the fall of the Republic, access to health services across Afghanistan has diminished, leading to a hike in the number of people needing humanitarian health assistance to an estimated 18.1 million in 2022, up from 14.5 million in 2021 – an increase of 20 per cent. The cluster plans to improve access to primary, secondary and tertiary health care in all provinces by scaling up the delivery of the basic package of health services (BPHS) and the essential package of hospital services to 14.6 million people (a 42 per cent increase compared to 2021), including 2.9 million women of childbearing age (15-49 years old). Those tasked with providing healthcare will have to ensure that women have safe and equal access to services, including reproductive health and information to survivors of gender-based violence. In addition, the cluster aims to strengthen emergency health services, including trauma and triage, and prevent and respond to outbreaks of infectious/communicable diseases, particularly COVID-19, Acute Watery Diarrhoea, and Dengue Fever.
Support will be provided in all provinces to 5.9 million children and women who are pregnant or lactating through static and mobile facilities. However, some provinces will be prioritised based on existing malnutrition rates among children under five, including Badakhshan, Badghis, Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Helmand, Jawzjan, Kabul, Nuristan, Paktika, Panjshir and Samangan.
The response focuses on monitoring violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law; supporting victims of gender-based violence; ensuring families at risk have access to child protection services; strengthening housing, land and property rights, especially for IDPs and; supporting de-mining activities. The cluster plans to reach 4.5 million people, with a focus on border areas with large IDP and returnee populations. The response will pay special attention to the most vulnerable groups, including the internally displaced, refugees and returnees, to identify persons in need of assistance and refer them to other clusters to receive support.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
Afghanistan is experiencing a water crisis precipitated by two years of severe drought that has caused grave water shortages, both for drinking and handwashing, and degraded the quality of water available to urban and rural populations, with the situation in 18 provinces classed as catastrophic, compared to none in 2020. The economic crisis and the moratorium on development funding that followed the Taleban takeover have caused a significant loss of capacity of the state entity in charge of the water supply and sewage, the Afghanistan Urban Water Supply and Sewage State Owned Corporation (UWASS). As a result, rural water supply projects have stalled and the urban water supply is plagued by a lack of electricity and chlorination and water leakages.
There have been increased reports of outbreaks of diseases such as Acute Watery Diarrhoea and cholera. The WASH cluster plans to help 10.4 million people get access to adequate water by ensuring safe drinking water supplies, for example, by providing households with chlorination tablets, solar water pumps or water purification facilities for communities, monitoring the water system to detect and repair leaks, monitoring ground water levels and ensuring quality levels are maintained by providing early warning of contamination. Finally, sanitation activities will focus on waste water and sewage management to control outbreaks of Acute Watery Diarrhoea and root out the breeding grounds of disease-bearing mosquitos.
Regional support to refugees
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched a separate annual appeal for USD 623 million to support 5.7 million Afghan nationals (including registered refugees and asylum seekers and projected new arrivals) mainly in Iran and Pakistan and with smaller numbers in Central Asia, as well as 1.77 million people in the communities that host the refugees and five host governments (see breakdown below and the 2022 Afghanistan Situation Regional Response Plan here).
Target Populations and Funding Requirements
Source: Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan 2022
| ||Projected Afghan Refugees 2022||Targeted Undocumented Afghans||Targeted Host Community||Total Targets||Funding Requirements (USD)|
Iran and Pakistan have long hosted large populations of Afghan refugees and undocumented Afghans who have relocated there in search of jobs or sanctuary. UNHCR estimates that an additional 1.4 million Afghan refugees will arrive in Pakistan in 2022, another one million will seek asylum in Iran and a smaller number of refugees, 31,000, will go to Central Asia. These numbers will add to the already significant population of refugees and undocumented Afghans in these countries.
This response plan will deliver humanitarian services, focusing on community-based interventions and finding long-term sustainable solutions to the needs of Afghan refugees and their hosts. The plan focuses on four primary areas: 1) Support for Afghan refugees and host communities with livelihoods activities and basic services such as health and education through the national systems where possible; 2) Support for host governments to ensure access to asylum and protection, including admission, registration, documentation and non-refoulement; 3) Provide humanitarian assistance across sectors, particularly to children and youth, women, the elderly, and persons with disabilities and; 4) Support host government efforts to ensure that emergency response measures are in place for new arrivals, such as shelter, non-food items, or registration facilities.
Financial Requirements by Sector in Iran and Pakistan (USD)
Source: Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan 2022
|Sector||Total by sector||Iran||Pakistan|
|Health and Nutrition||119.14M||69.6M||44.4|
|Livelihoods and Resilience||88.3M||27M||54.9|
|Logistics and Telecoms||17.5M||7M||9.2|
|Shelter and NFIs||77M||42.5M||23.3|
|Total by country|| ||259M||310M|
Acknowledged difficulties with access
Access to beneficiaries is a prerequisite for delivering humanitarian support and yet, there are reported troubles there. According to the Humanitarian Access Group (HAG), cited in the Humanitarian Response Plan, the number of incidents restricting NGO access nearly doubled in the first 11 months of 2021 (figures are not yet available for December): 2,016 incidents, up from 1,095 in 2020. In August alone, humanitarians logged 378 incidents (nearly twice the monthly average for the year) during the Taleban’s final push for power. These incidents included interference in humanitarian programming, active conflict, movement restrictions, road closures, robberies and threats. Active interference by the Taliban, armed criminal groups and communities (in that order) were the primary barriers to access for aid workers. The number of incidents did drop to below 100 a month in October and November, but that was at the same level as in 2020.
Humanitarians are also concerned over the lack of clarity and unified Taleban policy concerning the participation of women in the humanitarian response. This issue seems to have been resolved, for now, with partial agreements (16 provinces) and full agreements (18 provinces) in place across the country that allow for women to participate in the response. However, in light of recent Taleban policies concerning women, particularly the prohibition on women travelling without a mahram (a close male relative), this may change.
Operational capacity is another area for careful consideration. While the Humanitarian Response Plan puts the number of ‘humanitarian partners’ at 158 organisations – 78 national NGOs, 69 international NGOs and 11 UN organisations, it also says that some of those partners have had to halt or hibernate their programmes due to the conflict and in the wake of uncertainties following the fall of the Republic. Many organisations are struggling to work in the face of the banking crisis, which made paying staff and other expenses difficult. Indeed, the latest Humanitarian Response Dashboard put the number of active partners at just 68 organisations in January 2022 – 28 national NGOs, 33 international NGOs, six UN agencies and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. Given the short timeframe for implementing the Humanitarian Response Plan, humanitarian NGOs will have to have access to adequate resources and infrastructure to scale up operations.
What is not up for funding? Going beyond the humanitarian
Humanitarian assistance is indispensable, given the scale and urgency of the economic crisis now facing Afghans. Yet, as the Humanitarian Response Plan acknowledges, repeatedly, Afghanistan needs help with long-term development to address the underlying causes of humanitarian need. AAN has addressed these fundamental problems with the economy in in two papers, from September 2021, and Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg: Afghanistan’s economic distress post-15 August, from November 2021. They include: the abrupt cut to income and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) when the Taleban captured power – most aid was cut, as was funding of the security services and the money spent by foreign armies deployed to Afghanistan; far-reaching UN and especially US sanctions, which although subsequently watered down by wide-ranging waivers enacted by the US Treasury, still mean the fear of breaking sanctions is making international banks averse to dealing with NGOs, businesses and individuals in Afghanistan and; job losses, inflation, depreciation of the afghani and limited purchasing power for buying imports (Afghanistan had been importing six times more by value than it was exporting, with the deficit covered by aid and other unearned foreign income).
One acknowledgement that Afghanistan’s problems go beyond the humanitarian is the Transitional Engagement Framework (TEF), launched by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also in January, to be “the overarching strategic planning document for the UN system’s assistance in 2022.” In other words, it is the UN’s joint appeal for funding for both humanitarian and development activities. It has three strategic objectives/outcomes:
- Provide lifesaving assistance;
- Sustain essential services;
- Preserve social investments and community-level systems essential to meeting basic human needs.
A far shorter document than the Humanitarian Response Plan, just 20 pages, the Transitional Engagement Framework lacks the kind of depth one would expect from “the overarching strategic planning document for the UN system’s assistance in 2022,” that comes with an 8 billion USD price tag – 4.4 billion for outcome one and 3.7 billion for outcomes two and three. To put this in context, this is far more than the last budget of the Republic, USD 6.14 billion, which was for all government spending, including the spending on the military, security and police, which relied on on-budget support or the government’s own domestic revenues.
The Transitional Engagement Framework is ambitious in its aspirations, but given the political realities on the ground and the short timeframe for its implementation – just one year, it is surprisingly scant on data, detail, analysis and strategic priorities. The framework offers three outcomes if its planned activities are fully implemented (ie fully funded) – save lives, sustain essential services and preserve community systems – but does little to flesh out what this would mean. For example, the “outcome funding matrix” section provides lists of “indicative activities” which are organised by outcome but are not prioritised and nor do they give details such as the number of beneficiaries to be reached or how each activity will be designed and implemented.
It is merely a framework, as its name states, which is intended to be used as broad guidance and convey an overall vision. The fact that the humanitarian community launched its regular annual appeal in January 2022 would certainly bear out this idea. The 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, which is the focus of the 2022 London pledging summit, provides a detailed and strategic vision for humanitarian action in Afghanistan in 2022, including costings down to the cost per individual beneficiary. It is precisely this kind of detail and strategy that would be required from development actors.
However, the problems with going beyond the humanitarian are not just to do with providing a more professionally-organised plan. They are fundamentally political. The Concept Note for today’s conference appears to refer to this, as well as to the wider economic problems and to the difficulties currently hampering the provision of humanitarian aid when it gives one of the conference’s aims as:
Raise awareness of other challenges that are also critical to the survival of Afghanistan’s people, including basic needs, the functioning of its economy and availability of basic social services, while taking into account the political realities and situation on the ground.
Donors are presumed to be on board with the Humanitarian Response Plan precisely because it is humanitarian, and therefore officially apolitical. They are able to square this sort of aid with their wider political concerns over supporting a country whose government took power by force, which they do not recognise and whose senior leadership is subject to sanctions by the United States and United Nations, with several senior leaders wanted on terrorism charges. It is also feared that support beyond the humanitarian would allow the Taleban to divert resources to other activities, such as intelligence and security services, and in general stabilise and support their rule.
Since August, doubts have only increased given the Taleban’s resistance to calls from all sides to make itself more inclusive (it remains all-male and almost completely Pashtun and clerical), that continues to attack the media, detains journalists and human and women’s rights activists, has banned protests and continues to detain and allegedly disappear former members of the security services. Goodwill over doing any more than the strictly humanitarian has been further eroded by recent further restrictions on women’s rights to travel and work and their abrupt about-face on their promise earlier this year to re-open all girls’ schools. The US cancelled a meeting with Taleban officials in Doha because of the ban on secondary education for girls; the meeting, due to be held on 25 March, was to have included World Bank and UN representatives and according to US officials speaking to Reuters, was set to address key economic issues. An official said they “had made clear that we see this decision [on girls’ education] as a potential turning point in our engagement.”
The World Bank has also put on hold plans to give USD 600 million from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ATRF) in development aid to fund four projects in agriculture, education, health, and livelihoods via UN agencies. Given the Bank’s “strong focus on ensuring that girls and women participate and benefit from the support,” as stated in the press release announcing the aid, it has decided to only seek approval from ATRF donors for going ahead with the projects only “when the World Bank and international partners have a better understanding of the situation and confidence that the goals of the projects can be met” (quote via Reuters). The Bank has given no timeline for this.
Even providing humanitarian assistance, however, is hampered by this wider context. There are still, for example, problems with getting money into the country because, despite wide-ranging waivers to sanctions enacted by the US Treasury, the fear of breaking sanctions is still making international banks averse to the risk of dealing with NGOs, businesses and individuals in Afghanistan. Problems with liquidity and currency shortages mean humanitarian actors and others still face problems with withdrawing cash held in Afghan bank accounts and with transferring money between accounts within the country (see here).
In the long-term, the question remains: What path can Afghanistan take toward a functioning economy, what state institutions can donors engage with and how might this engagement be possible in light of sanctions and the absence of formal recognition. These concerns complicate donors’ ability and willingness to make significant pledges without imposing strict conditionalities. The Taleban, however, have repeatedly stated their opposition to any conditionality to the aid provided to Afghanistan; they view such conditions as an interference in the country’s domestic affairs.
This article was last updated on 1 Apr 2022