Severe Drought Threatens COVID-Ravaged Afghani Civilians

Millions of Afghani people are struggling to provide food for themselves and their families due to a combination of severe drought, COVID-19, and a surge in violence as foreign troops withdraw from the country. Over 12 million people — approximately one-third of the total population — face high levels of food insecurity.

On 22 June, Ashraf Ghani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, declared that 30% of the country is suffering from severe drought, 50% from serious drought, and 20% from moderate drought. The national disaster management budget is inadequate to address what experts have called one of the worst droughts in decades. Humanitarian funds are also lacking. To date, only 16 percent of the humanitarian response plan for Afghanistan has been funded.

Regarding COVID-19 response, the country is experiencing a shortage of tests, a lack of medical equipment, and an exponential rise in cases. The United Nations (UN) reported that 42% of recently tested people returned positive results, suggesting that COVID is widespread. Furthermore, the UN claimed the lack of both testing and a national death register means that “confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 are likely to be underreported overall in Afghanistan.”

Furthermore, violence has escalated sharply in response to the withdrawal of international military troops. The Taliban has swiftly captured large tracts of territory, strategic border categories, and provincial capitals. In its Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict midyear update, the UN mission in Afghanistan reported 1,659 civilians killed and 3,254 wounded — a 47% increase from last year.

Afghanistan is enmeshed in a complex emergency set to have tragic results. According to Astrid Sletten, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) country director in Afghanistan, “This year’s drought will be the final straw for millions of Afghans struggling to survive after decades of conflict and more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Memories of being uprooted from their homes due to lack of water during the 2018 drought are still fresh in the minds of hundreds of thousands of people in the country.”

To save lives and alleviate human suffering, humanitarian agencies such as the International Red Cross and the World Food Program must continue to address the people’s immediate needs, including access to food, water, and medical supplies. However, this approach alone is insufficient because it fails to address the root causes and long-term issues contributing to the present crisis. Instead, international and domestic actors need to formulate a model incorporating developmental thinking into the emergency phase of operations. Possible initiatives include the implementation of drought-resistant crops and schemes to protect livestock. An important caveat regarding international aid is local engagement. Only with local sovereignty over projects can initiatives be sustainable. This problem’s overall magnitude and intricacy also require a coordinated response by the international community to maximize limited funds’ efficiency.

The current crisis has several implications for international peace and security. First, large portions of the population are migrating to avoid starvation. Over a long period, this may create a large population of internally displaced peoples — a category that is afforded limited rights, visibility, or protection. These people will also put further strain on the resources of areas to which they move, which is likely to increase tensions between locals and migrants. Second, it may exceed Afghan borders in the form of a refugee crisis — as was seen in Syria — and contribute to regional instability. As such, local, regional, and national groups must collaborate to protect civilians and find innovative solutions that incorporate both emergency and development.