Kabul refugee camp


Afghanistan remains a protracted complex emergency where five million people need lifesaving assistance.’ – UN Humanitarian Coordinator,2014 

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis is predominantly man-made – the decades of war continue to take and destroy an extraordinary number of lives.  Civilian casualties are only one part of this complex equation.  The conflict has caused the breakdown of critical health, infrastructure and economic support structures.   Lack of access to clean water, health facilities and nutritious food is resulting in outbreaks of disease and unacceptable levels of acute and chronic malnourishment.  Unexploded ordnance from the current and previous wars continue to kill and maim civilians, whilst also rendering vital agricultural land unusable.  

Afghanistan has also faced numerous humanitarian crises brought on by natural disasters – based in an area of high seismic activity it has suffered devastating earthquakes, landslides and avalanches.  Its climate has also caused drought and flooding disasters, bringing both immediate loss of life and shelter and longer-term damage to livelihoods.  Such ‘stresses’ are often intolerable to communities already struggling with poverty. 

Civilian casualties

Conflict causes death or injury to Afghan civilians on a daily basis.  They are accidentally caught up in armed battles, are victims of explosive devices or are targets themselves for assassination.   Between 1 January and 31 December 2014, UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) documented 10,548 civilian casualties, with 3,699 civilian deaths and 6,849 injured. This represented a worrying increase of 22% on the previous year.  This brings the total number of deaths since UNAMA started documenting civilian casualties in 2007 to well over 17,800 – a conservative estimate since not all casualties will be recorded.  

As in most conflicts, women and children constitute a disproportionate number of these casualties. According to the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘During the first 11 months of 2013, at least nine children were killed or injured every two days in Afghanistan.’

Civilian casualties also include attacks on aid and development workers.  Both international and national staff have been victims of attack, kidnap, violence or have been caught in cross-fire. In 2013 Afghanistan was named as the most dangerous place to work for aid workers and local government officials. During 2014, 294 incidents against aid and government workers were recorded by the UN, including attacks against personnel, assets and facilities and the violation of health facilities. 223 affected non-governmental organizations and overall, 57 aid workers were killed.  These included, as an example, two female Finnish aid workers shot dead in their taxi as they travelled through Herat in July.

Conflict displacement

Conflict, or the threat of it, causes many Afghans to flee their homes and communities – often temporarily but sometimes for months, if not years.  The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated in May 2015 that over 805,000 people are internally displaced in Afghanistan, and over 20% of those were displaced in 2014.  These families and individuals lose important family and community support mechanisms when they flee their homes. 

In addition, many IDPs (internally displaced persons) lose their income and livelihoods, their land and other critical assets.  Whilst some IDPs are able to integrate into a new community, many have no choice but to join sprawling camps in cities, living in desperate conditions particularly during the harsh Afghan winters.  The 2011/12 winter was especially cold and more than 100 people, mainly children, died from the cold or illness in the camps.  In these situations, women, girls, the elderly and handicapped people are particularly vulnerable.

In addition to those who have been internally displaced, there are humanitarian issues faced by Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries.  Despite having lived as refugees in countries for decades, some Afghans are still unable to fully access local health, education, livelihood and judicial systems. 

Some Afghans do return – UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has run an assisted voluntary repatriation programme since 2002.  In March 2014 they estimated that 5.8 million refugees have returned home – meaning approximately a quarter of Afghanistan’s current total population have been refugees.  

Following the heinous December 2014 attack on a public army school in Peshawar, the Pakistan government included repatriation of refugees in its new anti-terrorism action plan. This contributed to an unprecedented influx of over 52,000 refugees returning to Afghanistan in a 10 week period in early 2015 – more than twice the number who returned in the whole of 2014. Afghans living in Iran face similar forced repatriation. IOM (International Organisation for Migration) said that in the period February to March 2015, around 55,000 Afghan women and men have been forced to return to Afghanistan without any heed to their destination or wellbeing. At least 10 – 20% of these returnees meet humanitarian vulnerability criteria.

Challenges & progress

Responding to humanitarian crises is often problematic.  But various factors make Afghanistan a particularly difficult context for national and international responses.  The security situation often prevents assistance reaching affected communities, as does the difficult terrain and lack of quality roads.  The lack of any recent census and the nomadic and migratory lifestyles of some groups make needs assessments more difficult.   Compounding all this, the Afghan government at central, provincial and local levels is often unable to respond – lacking the funds, experience, coordination and communication mechanisms needed for an effective and efficient response.

Despite this, when a double landslide hit villages in the Argo district of Badakhshan in April 2014, burying hundreds of people and destroying or severely damaging hundreds of homes, international relief agencies were encouraged by the level of local response.  Whilst coordination was at times badly managed, the distribution of essential shelter and food items was rapid and sufficient.  But as continued heavy rains across the north of Afghanistan brought widespread flooding, it was clear that government capacity required significant support from the international community. 

What BAAG is doing

BAAG works with its members and with other humanitarian professionals to highlight the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.   We organise debate and discussion on the subject, looking at challenges such as funding mechanisms, the humanitarian-development continuum, and the roles of other groups (such as the private sector, religious groups and communities) in providing response and building resilience.  We bring together our members and Afghan civil society to directly influence the humanitarian policy and decision makers in governments and international organisations such as the UN.

What our Members are doing

A number of our members, including Afghanaid, Islamic Relief, Concern and IRC, provide direct humanitarian support when crises occur in Afghanistan.  They often work through local partners, which helps ensure that responses are culturally and contextually acceptable, and that they are delivered quickly and effectively.  Critically, these and other members also support resilience and disaster reduction programmes to reduce the impact of future crises. See our Views and Voices and News sections for features written by or about our member’s humanitarian activities.  

BAAG’s recommendations to the UK and international community:

  1. Donors should respond adequately to the large scale of humanitarian need in Afghanistan, fully funding the UN appeal and providing additional direct support to aid agencies.
  2. In line with Good Humanitarian Donorship principles, all donors should systematically promote resilience to recurrent natural disaster by providing support to Afghan institutions, NGOs and local communities for disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness livelihood support and social protection.  
  3. To address chronic humanitarian need and protracted displacement, donors and aid actors should coordinate to ensure that humanitarian and development funding and programming are connected and complementary. Effectively pursuing post-2015 development goals, including livelihood creation and education, is needed to tackle the underlying causes of humanitarian crises and build resilience. 
  4. The needs of vulnerable groups - particularly women, children, internally displaced people and refugee returnees - should be prioritised. Donors should provide financial and technical assistance for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees and the National IDP Policy.
  5. Donors should support, and aid agencies provide, programming that is context sensitive. Aid actors should work impartially with all members of the community. Donors should incorporate flexibility in management of funds and explore remote management possibilities


In 2013 Afghanistan was named as the most dangerous place to work for aid workers and local government officials.