Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan 2018-2021 (January 2021 revision)
When the first edition of the multi-year Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) was published four years ago, it envisaged a very different and much improved situation for the people of Afghanistan by 2021, with humanitarian needs declining as people rebuilt their lives and began their recovery. Sadly, however, a deadly combination of COVID-19, surging conflict and a hostile climate have left that promise far out of reach. The trajectory of needs and scale of response over the life of this HRP paint a shocking picture of escalating suffering, hunger and danger.
We go into 2021, with 18.4 million people in humanitarian need – nearly half the population. There are nearly six times the number of people needing humanitarian assistance in 2021 compared to four years ago when this multi-year HRP was first developed. The health and socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen the number of people in need almost double in the past year alone, with food insecurity soaring as people’s livelihoods were lost and their limited financial reserves were depleted. Afghanistan now has the second highest number of people in emergency food insecurity in the world, while nearly one in two children under-five will face acute malnutrition in 2021. While enduringly resilient, people are increasingly desperate, resorting to debt and other more dangerous coping mechanisms to survive including marrying off their young daughters and sending their children to work. Against this backdrop of acute poverty, there are now 30.5 million people who require social assistance from the Government and development actors to help them cope and prevent them slipping into worse humanitarian need.
Over the course of the multi-year HRP, the humanitarian community has proven its capacity to scale-up to meet new needs, initially caused by the 2018-2019 drought and now COVID-19 coupled with escalating conflict. I am proud to say that despite the logistical challenges created by COVID-19 and the worsening security environment, humanitarian organisations have proven their commitment to stay and deliver, complementing the efforts of the Government, and actually increasing their footprint to provide assistance in 99 per cent of districts in 2020. Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are the backbone of this response and I see a strong and vibrant role for NGOs and the civil society sector in expanding this reach even further.
In 2021, humanitarian organisations have an ambitious plan to reach 15.7 million people with life-saving assistance. This is up from a target of 2.3 million people four years ago. The 2021 HRP requires $1.3 billion and people’s survival depends on the 162 dedicated humanitarian organisations operating in Afghanistan receiving sufficient financial resources to deliver a response on this scale. The consequences of late or inadequate funding are very real. Significant unmet needs in 2020 due to funding shortfalls and the acute focus on COVID-19, as well as the slow rollout of complementary development assistance, have all been factors in the worsening outlook for 2021.
While we have made significant strides in working more collaboratively with development actors in 2020 using a COVID-19 lens to produce a common needs analysis, the situation demands that we do more in 2021 to ensure our programme delivery is also complementary across the humanitarian-development spectrum. I look forward to seeing the outcomes from the Inter-Cluster Coordination Team's (ICCT's) work in this regard in 2021, with a particular focus on more integrated humanitarian action and agreement on common outcomes with development actors for people in long-term displacement, especially in urban areas and addressing the socio-economic impact of COVID-19. Initiatives like these are critical to supporting the kind of recovery originally envisaged at the start of this multi-year HRP.
The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and the ICCT are committed to applying a strong gender and protection lens to their work in 2021, acknowledging the disproportionate impacts of the conflict and the pandemic on women, children and people with disability. Given the scale of vulnerability in Afghanistan, this effort will be guided by a range of both new and well-established technical working groups focused on gender, disability inclusion, gender-based violence (GBV), child protection, accountability to affected people (AAP) and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA). Increasingly we also are working to address these protection and accountability issues in a more unified and coordinated way with development colleagues which will ensure more effective action. Sustained humanitarian access to people in need, free from interference by parties to conflict, will continue to be challenging in 2021, and our negotiations will be guided by the Joint Operating Principles (JOPS) with support from the Humanitarian Access Group (HAG).
Despite this bleak outlook, there is still cause for hope with the start of intra-Afghan negotiations. After enduring decades of war, people are mentally exhausted and hungry for peace, yearning for an end to civilian deaths and suffering. A permanent ceasefire or a persistent reduction in violence would provide the opportunity for humanitarians to carry out comprehensive assessments in hard-to-reach (HTR) areas to gain a deeper understanding of existing needs. Credible needs assessments are the critical first step in any response to ensure the right beneficiaries are supported with the right assistance.
Until this much hoped for peace becomes a reality, the humanitarian community stands beside the people of Afghanistan during what surely must be one of the country’s difficult periods. Given the sheer scale of needs, we all must do more, stretch higher and do better to deliver life-saving assistance to those who need it most. I urge donors to show solidarity, give early and give generously to humanitarian organisations at this pivotal moment, helping us to reduce immediate suffering but also set people on the so far elusive road to recovery. I am confident that all our investments and efforts will contribute to rebuilding and changing lives of the people we assist.