Persistent insecurity and intensified conflict continue to cause large-scale suffering and displacement of people throughout Afghanistan and the wider region. The lack of protection for civilians highlights an urgent need to promote International Humanitarian Law across all parties to the conflict. Attacks on healthcare and educational facilities by armed groups have reached a record high. The European Union’s main focus is providing live-saving aid through emergency medical care, various protection services and cash assistance.
According to the United Nations, the first half of 2019 saw a sustained high number of civilian casualties, with more than 3,800 people killed or injured. More than 230,000 people fled their homes due to conflict from January to August 2019, bringing the total number of displaced people to almost 3.4 million. Increased tensions in the run-up to the elections in September intensified fighting with a heavy toll on civilians as a result.
The conflict continues to limit people’s access to basic services and lifesaving assistance, with the closure of some public healthcare and educational facilities, as well as limited safe access for aid workers outside of urban centres. It is estimated that at least 2 million people are in need of essential health services. An estimated 13.5 million people do not have enough to eat, and at least 3.5 million people need emergency food assistance.
The risks of natural disasters further aggravates humanitarian needs. The aftermath of the 2018 drought and 2019 floods continue to affect more than 6.2 million people in 22 out of 34 provinces across Afghanistan.
Some 5.8 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, including more than 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 6 million Afghans still live as refugees in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, many of them without registration or legal status.
Given the intensity of the conflict and the level of humanitarian needs, the European Union’s key priority is to provide life-saving assistance. In 2019, the EU allocated €61 million in humanitarian support to ensure critical relief assistance to the most vulnerable including the victims of war, forced displacement and natural disasters. Interventions focus on providing emergency healthcare, shelter, food assistance, access to clean water and sanitation facilities, as well as various protection services, targeting women and children. €2 million of the total funding addresses the most pressing needs of people affected by the devastating March 2019 floods.
The EU funds the Emergency Response Mechanism (ERM), which ensures timely and flexible emergency assistance to people who have been recently displaced. Since the beginning of 2019, the ERM programme has reached 180,000 people in 29 provinces through the delivery of cash grants, clean water and access to sanitation services. The ERM’s initial provision of life-saving assistance allowed other humanitarian agencies to coordinate and plan further assistance in the mid- and long-term and helped the EU’s humanitarian partners to deliver solid advocacy efforts for the early mobilisation of development and stabilisation funds.
Furthermore, the EU supports 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 due to conflict. Health facilities continue to report record-high admission levels of conflict-related trauma cases. EU humanitarian funding supports the delivery of emergency treatment and related psychological assistance to nearly 5,000 Afghans each month. The EU also supports a nutrition response in view of the more than 1.5 million children under 5 years of age suffering from acute malnutrition in Afghanistan.
The EU also funds education in emergencies projects for children who were forced out of school due to conflict or displacement and in order to facilitate effective implementation of principled humanitarian action, also supports humanitarian flights, the provision of security information to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the coordination of humanitarian intervention.
The EU has funded humanitarian operations in Afghanistan since 1992, providing up to €866 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.