Afghanistan one year on – what lessons for development?

Published on 15 August 2022

Research from IDS and its partners provides insights on the impacts of the past 12 months on the people of Afghanistan and what can be done to best support them.

The Taliban took back power in Afghanistan, taking over Kabul on 15 August 2021, after US-led forces withdrew from the country. The sudden shift in power devastated the livelihoods and education of many women and girls and displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans who fled in fear for their lives. This crisis compounded the existing crises of drought and Covid-19 in Afghanistan.

How have these multiple crises affected development in Afghanistan? IDS researchers and partners have been examining a range of areas over the past year, including lessons learned regarding humanitarian aid, and impacts on religious minorities and on young people looking for routes out of poverty.

Humanitarian needs and foreign aid

What next for foreign aid in Afghanistan? The Afghanistan Strategic Learning Initiative (ASLI) was convened to examine exactly that question earlier this year in partnership with IDS, the Center for Global Development, Chatham House, ODI and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development-Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC).

The Needs and vulnerability in Afghanistan report published in May this year as part of the ASLI, written by IDS researchers Jeremy Allouche, Lewis Sida, Tina Nelis and Sofya Shahab, examined four broad areas: poverty, structural vulnerability, basic services, and shocks.

It found that:

  • Chronic poverty and structural vulnerabilities are at the root of Afghanistan’s current humanitarian crisis.
  • These underlying factors have been compounded by a short-term liquidity and banking crisis at the same time as the second severe drought in three years.
  • Although humanitarian aid is of paramount importance to alleviate immediate need, it cannot substitute for functioning basic services and rural institutions in the medium term.
  • The Taliban is responsible for providing for the population it controls – aid agencies should not unthinkingly substitute for government services when internal resources are available.
  • There is a need to find creative ways to support functioning institutions, build trust and expand the political space for these kinds of interventions.

Regarding the need for functioning basic services in Afghanistan, more than 70 academics, including IDS’ Honorary Professor and Research Associate Richard Jolly, recently called for the US and other nations to release Afghanistan’s $9bn central bank assets in a letter sent to President Biden, to enable the Afghan economy to function.

Lessons for public services and infrastructure funding in Afghanistan could also be informed by findings of the recent UN-commissioned evaluation of the UN’s inter-agency humanitarian operation in Yemen since 2015. A team of independent evaluators, including IDS researchers, found that the UN’s unprecedented humanitarian aid operation in Yemen had slowed, but not prevented, the collapse of basic services, and that short-term humanitarian funding is ultimately not suited to a much longer-term protracted crisis.

Impact on Shi’a Hazara refugees

The IDS-led Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID) recorded experiences of Shi’a Hazaras from Afghanistan, who have experienced over century-old state-led persecution. After the Taliban took control, they fled in fear to Pakistan, but encountered harassment and discrimination when they arrived, as told to CREID partner researchers Maryam Kanwer and Jaffer Mirza and published in From Afghanistan to Pakistan, the never-ending ordeals of Shi’a Hazaras.

Further research from CREID and the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities on this issue has recently been published in Responsiveness to religious inequalities in contexts of displacement: Evidence from providers of humanitarian assistance to Shi’a Hazara refugees from Afghanistan in Pakistan. It finds that refugees of Shi’a Hazara backgrounds are particularly affected as Afghan refugees in Pakistan due to a combination of displacement, poverty, religious and ethnic inequalities.

The research also found that while local providers of Shi’a Hazara refugee support have shown high levels of responsiveness to refugees’ specific needs due to their religious and ethnic backgrounds, the response of national and international actors to these religious and ethnic inequalities is more limited. It draws the lesson that humanitarian action must consider religious diversity and the dynamics between different religious and secular groups that have a clear impact on the needs of people of various faiths and no faith and the challenges that they face.

Young people and poverty

Data from new research on how young Afghans can escape poverty amid layered crises, from Orzala Nemat and Vidya Diwakar, Deputy Director, Chronic Poverty Advisory Network and IDS Research Fellow, shows that 80 per cent of Afghan households reported that they faced a much worse economic situation in January/February 2022 than they did in early 2021. In a country where nearly four in five people are under the age of 35, this poses a serious concern for the future of the country and efforts towards zero poverty.

Their recommendations to support young people out of poverty in Afghanistan include moving beyond humanitarian concerns with multi-sectoral interventions that span the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, with a focus on food security and livelihood support.

The new article Livelihoods and Welfare Amidst Layered Crises in Afghanistan from the latest IDS Bulletin on Pandemic Perspectives: Why Different Voices and Views Matter further examines the lives of young Afghans. It provides evidence on the impacts from the overlapping crises of the political change in August 2021, Covid-19’s hindrance on people’s access to jobs, healthcare and the second-worst drought in four years widely affecting agriculture and livestock. Its findings call for a more holistic and collective crisis management approach to tackle the multiple crises.  It also highlights that the Covid-19 pandemic is still not declared over, and therefore aid and assistance programmes must continue to consider addressing its impacts on people’s livelihoods.


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