Since the Taliban seized power from a Western-backed government last year, Afghanistan has struggled with a severe drought, widespread hunger, attacks by militants and an economic crisis that has caused more than a million peopleto flee their homes.
At the same time, many Western governments that recoiled at the Taliban’s policies, not least on human rights, have severed diplomatic relations. Many of the country’s assets overseas have been frozen and international support has collapsed.
The Taliban have struggled to attract more foreign aid for public services from Western donors since announcing edicts barring girls from attending secondary schools and restricting women’s rights. Under the previous Western-backed government, foreign aid funded 75 percent of the governments budget, including health and education services — aid that was abruptly cut off after the Taliban seized power.
Afghans had been struggling to emerge from decades of conflict: the 20-year war between the United States and its allies against militants, the civil war of the 1990s, the Soviet occupation before that. The cumulative toll of the conflicts, stretching back to the 1970s, has left more than half the country’s roughly 40 million people needing humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations. Three-quarters of the population live in acute poverty.
In January, the United Nations appealed for more than $5 billion for humanitarian relief for Afghanistan to avert what Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s emergency aid coordinator, said could become a “full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.” Much of that appeal was for food after the economic collapse plunged half of the population into potentially life-threatening food insecurity.
“Part of the Afghanistan population is already in a humanitarian crisis,” the U.N. resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, said at a news conference on Wednesday. People had been buying expired bread that would normally have been fed to animals, he said, adding that the food crisis “does add to the burden.”
The problem of hunger has been exacerbated by a drought, declared by the government a year ago, that has debilitated the country’s already limited ability to cope with a lack of rainfall. Drought and conflict can feed off each other, experts said, by worsening the contest for scarce resources and increasing poverty, which itself causes greater instability.
For much of the last 20 years, the southeastern part of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border was plagued by insurgent activity. Police and military posts were frequently overwhelmed by Taliban fighters, and the region received few benefits from the American military presence.
Although relative calm has prevailed since the Western-backed government fled from the Taliban’s advance, security remains a problem around the country.
On Saturday, fighters stormed a Sikh temple in the capital, Kabul, leaving several people dead and others wounded despite Taliban claims to have eliminated the threat posed by the militant group ISIS. Since April, terrorist attacks have killed more than 100 people, mostly civilians among Afghanistan’s Shiite and Sufi minority groups.
And earthquakes are yet another risk. Many of the country’s densely populated towns and cities sit on or near several geological faults, some of which can produce earthquakes of up to 7 in magnitude.
In 2002, at least 1,500 people were killed when a series of earthquakes with a magnitude between 5 and 6 struck northern Afghanistan, destroying a district capital in the Hindu Kush. A 1998 quake measuring 6.9 killed up to 4,000 people in Afghanistan’s north.