The withdrawal of troops marks the end of one of America’s longest military engagements but the social, economic and security situation in the country remains dire.
Whilst the international community is focusing upon what a post-US and NATO Afghanistan may look like, Afghans are grappling with the ongoing and acute humanitarian needs within the country.
Having borne the brunt of the decades-long conflict, Afghans all over the country are extremely nervous about what will happen if any political settlement between the government and the Taliban is reached. The situation on the ground remains dire for tens of millions of people, with continued risk of conflict, the devastating effects of climate change and residual impacts from decades of war.
As the world marks the seventieth anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention on June 20, it’s incumbent upon the international community to reflect upon the plight of Afghans everywhere – whether it be the 19 million Afghans that live below the poverty line, Afghan refugees who remain in exile or those who are stuck in limbo.
Irrespective of the troop withdrawal timetable, the fundamental humanitarian needs of Afghans will not change, and as such, donors must remain steadfast both in terms of support inside the country as well as countries hosting large numbers of refugees such as Iran and Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s unique geography and climate mean that it routinely faces severe climatic events such as extreme temperatures, flooding and drought. In 2018, the drought in the country’s western region was so severe that it displaced more than 170,000 people. Primarily from provinces bordering Herat in the west, this group of people was forced to seek refuge in other parts of the country simply to meet their basic needs.
A significant number remain housed in informal settlements to this day, unable to return home and unable to integrate into local communities.
Fast forward to 2021, and Afghanistan is once again on the precipice of yet another drought. Anticipated to diminish the quality and quantity of crop yields, and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of subsistence farmers, the potential results from this drought could again be disastrous.
According to the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), 17 provinces are facing the bleak prospect of a one-in-twenty-year drought. A further 24 districts are facing a one-in-ten-year scenario.
Should these forecasts come true, more than nine million persons are likely to be affected by hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity. According to the 2021 UN Humanitarian Needs Overview, Afghanistan has the second-highest number of people in the world suffering from emergency levels of food insecurity.
Risk of explosive remnants of war
Beset by fighting, conflict and war since 1979, Afghanistan is also battling with a silent and indiscriminate killer that does not receive the same news coverage as roadside attacks or other heinous events: unexploded ordnances and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).
With 40,373 civilians killed by landmines or ERWs since 1989, and an estimated one million Afghans living within 500 metres of a mine-contaminated area, it will take demining and clearance teams several years to make the country safe from this threat. In the meantime, casualties will continue to increase, as men, women and children fall victim to these objects that are solely designed to kill and maim.
In 2020 alone, there were 1,473 reported civilian casualties from unexploded ordnance, a figure that has jumped since the previous year. Of this number, approximately half were children. A large number are also internally displaced persons, who may often return to their places of origin to farm, but without the understanding and knowledge of the hazards that may exist.
Violence, insecurity and conflict
Afghanistan is no stranger to conflict, having held the unfortunate title of ‘World’s Least Peaceful Country’ since 2019. If that’s not enough, the country also reverted to being designated as a country in ‘active conflict’ in 2018.
Afghanistan has witnessed a deteriorating security situation in recent years, with targeted killings, kidnappings and explosions placing fear into the lives of everyday Afghans. Many are nervous about what the future may hold.
Devastating attacks on innocent civilians are far from rare. Most recently, on May 8, there were a series of explosions outside a school for girls in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul. Killing and injuring more than 150 young schoolgirls, the attack drew worldwide condemnation.
Despite the global outrage, however, such attacks will likely continue, with government forces, political opponents and civilians all in the firing line.
Ongoing conflict across the country over many decades has resulted in more than six million Afghans seeking refugee outside of the country. A further five million are displaced within Afghanistan, without access to basic services and facing barriers to attaining fundamental human rights. With seemingly no end in sight to the violence and conflict that has plagued the country, conflict-induced displacement is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.
Where to from here?
Although the rapid timetable for troop withdrawals will bring foreign military presence to an end in just a few months, Afghanistan’s social and economic recovery will take much longer. There is no doubt that the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan will remain dire in the months and years ahead, with no prospects for a dramatic change in the lives and livelihoods of millions of Afghans.
It is therefore critical that the international community make clear their intentions to support Afghanistan and its neighbours for the long haul. Only then will we have the opportunity to witness what all Afghans desire – a safe and prosperous Afghanistan.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
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