Afghanistan is facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, especially since the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces in August 2021. 

Compounding severe food insecurity, multiple natural hazards and Taliban rule, a 5.9 M earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan on June 22. The earthquake is the most devastating in two decades, killing at least 1,000 people and destroying or damaging more than 2,000 homes.

To provide funders with information about responding at the intersection of an environmental disaster amid a humanitarian crisis, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy recently hosted a webinar, Afghanistan’s Earthquake: When a Disaster Meets a Humanitarian Crisis.

CDP’s Director of Learning and Partnerships, Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, moderated the discussion, and panelists included: Hsiao-Wei Lee, Afghanistan Deputy Country Director, Operations, World Food Programme (WFP); Haqmal Munib, Afghanistan Program Quality Coordinator, CARE; and Federico Motka, Head of Emergencies and Humanitarian Portfolio, Vitol Foundation.

To provide an overview of the context in Afghanistan and demonstrate the scale of humanitarian needs in the country, Gulliver-Garcia shared some statistics, including:

  • 24.4 million people will be in humanitarian need in 2022, more than half the country's population.
  • Afghanistan faces the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption globally.
  • Conflict in 2021 forced more than 700,000 people in Afghanistan to flee their homes, 59% of which were children.

WFP is seeing unprecedented levels of hunger across the country, with more than 60% of households resorting to coping strategies such as selling household goods, borrowing food, and begging. WFP and other humanitarian actors in Afghanistan face gaps in funding. Lee said WFP was short at least $1 billion which represents only around $100 per person in need for the entire year. 

Munib shared about the current needs in Afghanistan following the earthquake. In addition to the loss of life and injuries, critical infrastructure was damaged, including homes, schools, and water networks leaving thousands of people even more at-risk of future shocks. 

Munib said the widespread impacts of the earthquake require a multi-sectoral response to meet the diversity of needs. He also highlighted how the earthquake exacerbated the current humanitarian crisis, and support for the Afghan people is needed now more than ever. Areas of need include ensuring access to essential services, preparation for the winter season, and livelihood support. 

Motka described Vitol Foundation’s response as a two-step process. First, considering its existing relationships on the ground and offering flexibility to those partners and second, understanding what the foundation could and could not do. Vitol Foundation decided to focus its efforts in the months after the earthquake because, as Motka said, “There is always that drop-off in funding, but the recovery period needs to be supported as well.”  

Some funders have expressed concern about funding in Afghanistan, given sanctions on the country. Motka pointed out ways to work in line with sanctions, such as considering fiscal sponsorship, utilizing technology like digital money, and working with banks in the financial services sector. 

Motka said, “We as funders have to take a more active role. A lot of the time, we pass that risk and that liability, if you will, along to our partners and say, ‘We’ll fund you guys through your bank account in the U.S. or U.K. or wherever, and it is up to you to get the funding in.’ I think there is much more we can do.”

The webinar panelists responded to questions provided by the audience, and Gulliver-Garcia concluded by sharing the following actionable thoughts from the conversation:

  • Support local and established organizations.
  • Fund emergencies and crises.
  • Learn about the rules but don’t be afraid.

Watch the full webinar at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.