In Afghanistan, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 9.4 million in 2019 to 14 million in 2020.1 Violence continues to disproportionately impact children and women, who represent over 40 per cent of all civilian casualties recorded during the first half of 2020.2
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has put additional strain on the already weak health system and exacerbated the underlying protection and gender-based vulnerabilities of children and women.
UNICEF remains at forefront of the humanitarian response in Afghanistan, and will continue to reach vulnerable children and families affected by multiple shocks with urgent, life-saving services. Priorities will include promoting gender equality, strengthening the linkages between humanitarian action and development programming, building community resilience and localizing the response.
UNICEF requires US$143.6 million to meet the humanitarian needs of women and children in Afghanistan in 2021.
HUMANITARIAN SITUATION AND NEEDS
In Afghanistan, the ongoing conflict, limited access to basic services and the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbating vulnerabilities. While the recent peace talks are cause for optimism, the scale, severity and complexity of the humanitarian situation remain staggering. Between January and October 2020, nearly 225,000 people fled their homes due to conflict. Across the country, over 4.1 million people are internally displaced.
The health system is struggling to absorb internally displaced persons, refugees and returnees, as well as additional caseloads related to COVID-19. Lack of health service coverage and capacities are limiting access to essential health care, particularly in hard-toreach areas. Child immunization declined by 22 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, compared with the same period of 2019, primarily due to COVID-19 and related quarantine measures.7
Food insecurity is alarmingly high in Afghanistan. Over 42 per cent of the population is facing crisis and worse levels of food insecurity.8 Twenty-seven out of 34 provinces are now experiencing acute malnutrition levels that exceed the emergency threshold.9 The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a 13 per cent increase in the estimated number of children under 5 years who are severely malnourished.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Government closed all schools across the country for six months, affecting more than 7.5 million children attending public schools, particularly girls, and 500,000 children enrolled in community based-education.10 When schools reopen, the majority of vulnerable children will require remediation and catch-up classes to prevent them from falling behind or dropping out entirely. In addition, over 35 per cent of schools and health facilities lack reliable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.11 The protracted crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have heightened underlying protection vulnerabilities. Returnees, especially children, are at higher risk of death and injury due to explosive remnants of war.12 An estimated 74 per cent of children experience violent discipline, including psychological aggression and/or physical punishment, in their homes.13 Vulnerable and marginalized groups, including women, girls, those living in poverty, the internally displaced, female-headed households and people with disabilities, are vulnerable to gender-based violence and the use of negative coping mechanisms for survival.
The crisis has also aggravated pre-existing gender inequalities that undermine women and girls' access to essential services. For women, access to health and protection services has been decimated: 67 per cent of women are unable to access health services without a male escort.14