Humanitarian Challenges in Afghanistan

19 August 2014

by Muhammed Hussain Raufi

On World Humanitarian Day, Muhammed Hussain Raufi, Humanitarian Coordinator at Islamic Relief Afghanistan, discusses ongoing humanitarian needs following flash floods and landslides in Afghanistan


Afghanistan has historically been an agrarian country, with around 80% of the population living in rural communities, many in rudimentary homes made of mud. Agriculture provides the greatest income source for the rural population. These communities have very low levels of resilience to any disaster. Moreover, Afghanistan is geographically a mountainous country, with heavy seasonal rains and snow.

April and May 2014 saw those heavy rains and snow cause one of the most serious catastrophic phenomena in Afghanistan – flash floods and landslides.  Whole communities in northern provinces saw their houses and harvesting lands severely damaged or completed destroyed. Other hazards such as earthquakes and avalanches are rare events but can prove equally destructive.

Humanitarian needs are widespread across the country. Drought and man-made disasters (conflicts and insecurity) have impacted thousands of families, leading to issues such as displacement and food insecurity, the latter particularly in the southern communities of Afghanistan.

In the flash floods and landslides this spring, thousands of families suffered the dual shock of displacement and loss of all their livelihood stocks. 20,000 families in 27 provinces were affected by the flash floods, along with more than 500 families in two different provinces of Afghanistan affected by the landslides.

Insecurity has been one of the blockades to the humanitarian relief efforts, particularly in the remotest villages.  But as well, coordination among the governmental focal agency ANDMA (Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority) & other humanitarian agencies proved difficult, as organizations tried to prevent the overlap and duplication of interventions at the community level.

Partly this was due to time consuming tripartite coordination and negotiations involving community leaders, CDC (Community Development Councils) chair persons and local authorities.  This hindered the swift response which was needed for many affected families.

Despite this, it must be said that the initial and immediate humanitarian responses provide to the affected families have been adequate.  The high-level coordination undertaken by the UNOCHA, government and all other humanitarian partners generally resulted in a well harmonized response, and provided the opportunity to all actors to respond without the overlapping of activities.  Islamic Relief and other responders believe the response was able to effectively and sufficiently reach all affected communities.

The challenges and problems which cropped up during the response stage have subsequently been thoroughly discussed with all humanitarian actors in monthly FSAC (Food Security and Agriculture Cluster) meetings, at the regional and national level.  Possible solutions for action have been proposed which should address and resolve the issues.     

It is worth mentioning that the current political transition, changing security responsibilities and potential shifting and diminishing focus of the international community will obviously impact the response to humanitarian crises.  Whilst the Afghan government has finally reached the stage to organize and prioritize humanitarian interventions and allocate budget to any emergency, it is not self-sufficient to cover and respond to all humanitarian crises as a single responding entity.  In comparison to previous years, the government has been one of the strong and joint humanitarian actors in terms of coordination, fund raising and response, but it still needs the international community to be part of the response and of the longer-term disaster response, recovery and resilience cycle.  The recent contribution of the international community has proved that the government alone wouldn’t have been able to cover the 132 affected districts of 27 affected provinces.

The government is capable of reaching the affected communities sooner than any other agencies, but only when it has sufficient funding to prepare and provide sufficient response.  Much of that funding has, and must, come from international and local organizations. Funding cuts by the former will not only affect the process of swift response but will also affect the quantity or the coverage of response.  This could potentially see only the most badly affected communities receiving aid, with hundreds of other affected families suffering.  Another worrying prospect is an underfunded government only able to respond to a humanitarian crisis in one or two sectors like Emergency Food Distribution or WASH.  Without a comprehensive response – and a focus on recovery and resilience – affected communities may add displacement to the list of traumas they’ve experienced.