Persistent insecurity and intensified conflict continue to cause large-scale suffering and displacement of people throughout Afghanistan and in 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.
According to the United Nations, over 10 000 civilians were killed or injured in 2018 (some 40 percent increase in civilian casualties), and 740 000 people had become newly displaced from January 2018 to February 2019. The conflict continues to limit access to basic services and lifesaving assistance, with the closure of some public health and education facilities as well as limited access for humanitarian operators.
The country has been enduring a severe drought in 2018 that heavily affected two-thirds of its territory and at least 10 million people. The United Nations estimates that over 250 000 people are newly affected by natural disasters every year in Afghanistan. Early March 2019 devastating floods affected 14 provinces. According to the UN over 122 000 people have been identified as being affected and are in need of humanitarian assistance. As a result of the floods, 63 people are known to have died and a further 31 people have been injured. To date, the highest number of affected people are in Farah, where almost 52 000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Some 5.8 million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, including over 800 000 in 2018. 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, at least five million Afghans still live as refugees in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, including 2.7 million without registration or legal status.
Given the intensity of the conflict and the level of humanitarian needs, the European Commission's key priority is to provide life-saving assistance. In 2018, the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO) allocated €46 million to ensure critical relief assistance to the most vulnerable including the victims of the severe drought which is currently affecting large swathes of the country. Interventions focus on emergency shelter, food assistance, medical care, cash-based assistance, and various protection services, both gender-based and child protection. In March 2019 the European Commission announced €27 million in humanitarian assistance for people in need in Afghanistan, including €2 million dedicated to the most vulnerable families affected by devastating floods that occurred in early March and which continue to affect large parts of the country.
ECHO also funds education in emergencies projects for children who were forced out of school due to conflict or displacement. The Commission also supports humanitarian flights, the provision of security information to NGOs, and the coordination of humanitarian intervention.
The EU funds the Emergency Response Mechanism (ERM), which ensures timely and flexible emergency assistance to people who have been recently displaced. Its core activities are to provide unconditional cash assistance and to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene within the first two months of displacement, reducing the risk of harmful negative coping strategies. In 2018, the ERM reached over 321 000 people - an increase compared to 2017 due to significant drought-related displacement.
Furthermore, the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) support life-saving health services for victims of the conflict, whilst also ensuring access to healthcare for people in areas where regular government services are disrupted health facilities continue to report record high admission levels of conflict-related trauma cases. The Commission’s funding supports the delivery of emergency treatment and related psychological assistance to close to 5 000 Afghans each month. The EU also supports a nutrition response in view of the more than 1.5 million children under age five suffering from acute malnutrition in Afghanistan.
The EU has funded humanitarian operations in Afghanistan since 1994, providing up to €821 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.