Persistent insecurity and intensified conflict continue to cause large-scale suffering and displacement of people throughout Afghanistan and into the neighbouring region. The lack of protection for civilians highlights an urgent need to promote International Humanitarian Law across all parties to the conflict. Humanitarian needs are further compounded by the risk of natural disasters and the impact of climate change.
Intense fighting persists between government forces supported by the international military forces and armed opposition groups. Civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict. According to the United Nations, over 10 400 civilians were killed or injured in 2017; more than 30% were children. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that at least 479 000 people have become newly displaced since January 2017, requiring humanitarian assistance and protection from violence. They urgently need basic services such as health care, water and shelter. At national level, eight million Afghans are food insecure. At the moment, the country is experiencing a 70% reduction in rainfall compared to the same period last year. Current projections of persistent dry spells predict an aggregated food deficit in 2018. The resilience of millions of Afghans is further eroded by regular natural disasters, including: floods; landslides and earthquakes. The United Nations estimates that over 250 000 people are affected by natural disasters every year in Afghanistan.
Some 5.8 million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002. Throughout 2017, approximately 650 000 Afghans have returned to the country, often after many decades, due to diverse push and pull factors, including deteriorating protection space in Pakistan and Iran. The influx of the returnees has strained the capacity of existing services and caused concerns about their ability to re-integrate and establish decent living conditions. Meanwhile, a further 5 million Afghans (2.7 million without registration or legal status) are still living as refugees in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.
Given the intensity of the conflict and the level of humanitarian needs, the European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) will focus on the provision of life-saving interventions. In January 2018, ECHO provided €26 million to ensure much-needed relief assistance to the most vulnerable conflict-affected populations. Interventions focus on emergency medical care and multi-sectoral cash transfers, as well as protection interventions. The EU supports education in emergencies for children who were forced out of school due to conflict or displacement. In order to facilitate the implementation of principled humanitarian interventions the EU also funds humanitarian flights, the provision of security information to NGOs and the coordination of humanitarian action. .
The EU funds the Emergency Response Mechanism (ERM) ensuring timely emergency assistance (often cash) to people who have been recently displaced. A small proportion of these beneficiaries are people affected by natural disasters. Since the beginning of 2017, around 300 000 people across the country have benefited from ERM assistance.
Furthermore the EU funds life-saving health services for victims of the conflict and supports health services in areas where the regular government health care provision is disrupted due to armed interventions.
In 2016 and 2017, €1.95 million has been allocated to deliver education in emergencies to vulnerable children, including Pakistani refugee children. The initiatives have been introduced in conflict-affected provinces such as Khost, Nangarhar, Jawzjan and Kandahar, benefiting 11 500 students and over 200 teachers.
The European Commission has funded humanitarian operations in Afghanistan since 1994, providing in excess of €775 million to date. Funds are allocated strictly on the basis of the humanitarian principles of independence, impartiality, and neutrality to ensure access to those in need.