MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — “When you don’t have the power to provide things for your family, it will destroy you.” -Halim, Afghanaid spokesperson and Afghan citizen
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban marched into Kabul and reclaimed control of Afghanistan. The change in regime unraveled decades of economic and social progress in the region, plunging Afghan citizens into poverty. Fortunately, Afghanaid, a humanitarian organization celebrating 40 years of supporting men, women and children across Afghanistan to build brighter futures, is responding to the current humanitarian crisis.
The Scale of the Afghan Plight
International reports agree that the situation in Afghanistan is grave. The following statistics indicate that Afghan citizens are in crisis:
- As of mid-2022, two-thirds of Afghan households can not afford food and other basic non-food items.
- According to the International Rescue Committee, 90% of Afghans are impacted by poverty, more than half of whom are reliant on international aid for their survival.
- Afghanistan is home to more than 28.3 million people in need, making it the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
- The October 2023 earthquakes claimed 2,000 lives, injured more than 4,000 and displaced 1,400 people from the Herat province in western Afghanistan. Prone to natural disasters and intense bouts of drought, Afghanistan’s environmental catastrophes exacerbate poverty rates.
The scale of poverty and need for implementing aid programs is clear, but doing so runs the risk of generalizing the Afghan experience and undermining Afghanistan citizens. Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, former UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, recently said “I don’t think by sitting in more comfortable places, we challenge ourselves enough.”
To consolidate the chasm between global statistics and grassroots reality, we looked to the remote provinces of Samangan, Badakhshan, Daykundi and Ghor, where Afghanaid is focusing its outreach projects. The Borgen Project spoke with Halim and Sarah, who work on the ground in these provinces, in an effort to look beyond numbers and better understand the underlying issues fuelling the Afghan plight.
“When we talk about poverty a statistic is fine, but when you go to the provinces that we are operating in, where we are doing our activities, the situation there is very worrying,” Sarah told The Borgen Project in a recent interview.
Afghanaid’s Mission and Strategy
Afghanaid’s mission is to bring about “a peaceful, just and thriving Afghanistan.” Given the severity of the current humanitarian crisis, this long-term goal seems worlds away. However, Halim and Sarah are unrelenting in their efforts to make this vision a reality for their people.
“We work with millions of people that are living in remote areas,” Halim told The Borgen Project. “We are working to build basic services, improve livelihoods and also to help communities protect themselves from natural disasters, adapt to climate change and respond to the humanitarian emergency.”
An integral part of Afghanaid’s strategy is building trust and rapport within communities. Success in this area can be attributed to the organization’s staff demographic. Of 775 passionate employees, approximately 97% are Afghan. With political instability an ever-present issue, the Afghan team has generated immense respect within the provinces where they operate, giving ordinary Afghans faith and agency to steer their own development.
Halim recalled the story of a young boy from a remote, agricultural community in Daykundi, who spoke of his plans to flee Afghanistan in search of work. “Are there any job opportunities for me? Otherwise, I’m going to Iran,” Halim recalled the boy saying. Halim inquired further and found that the boy was in school and did not want to leave his village, his family, or his country. But the main means of livelihood for the remote community are in agriculture and livestock.
After four years of unrelenting drought, selling livestock for survival and scarce employment opportunities, “he told me there is no choice.” There was a school and there was a close-knit Daykundi community, yet the young boy felt there was no choice but to leave his family and send money home in order to ensure they survived.
This boy’s personal story is harrowing in unique and personal ways, in spite of his anonymity. And he is not alone in his dilemma. With approximately 80% of Afghans working in agriculture and livestock, the majority of the country is at the mercy of changing weather patterns and environmental shifts. “The situation is really complicated, it is one issue after another issue,” said Halim. The result for many is an impossible choice.
As a result of families facing difficult decisions, Afghanistan is experiencing crises of mental health, child marriages and mass emigration of male youth — and with them, their economic power — among others. Halim and Sarah were keen to stress that there is no single issue facing the country.
Sarah warned that families are “marrying their smaller daughters into early child marriages because of the poverty”, while Halim told The Borgen Project that “most people have mental problems because all day they are thinking what is my family’s future?”
The consequences of the humanitarian crisis are devastating and the causes are complex. When asked about the lack of options available to Afghan families, Sarah replied: “This question makes me very emotional, because these are my people.”
From Aid To Empowerment
Sarah expressed her frustrations at the ‘quick fix’ approaches of humanitarian organizations to disaster relief. “Short-term emergency help is not enough,” she insisted. “Please provide infrastructure activities, long activities, so that people can work, they can learn skills, and they can bring incomes to their families.” Cooperation and long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s development is the message from two Afghanaid employees who are helping turn the tide for their people.
In 2023, Afghanaid helped 1,281,500 Afghan citizens meet their basic needs. With 40 years of humanitarian experience under its belt, the esteemed organization is leading the charge against endemic poverty and resource insecurity in Afghanistan.
– Imogen Townsend
Photo: Courtesy of Afghanid