From the Field

Afghanistan crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Children and families in Afghanistan are facing a growing humanitarian crisis, the result of decades of conflict, chronic poverty, and natural disasters, including severe flooding. The dire situation includes a hunger crisis, a near-collapse of the health system, devastation to schools, and the destruction of family livelihoods.

Since May 10, 2024, Afghanistan has faced devastating floods that have caused hundreds of fatalities and impacted over half a million people. Compounding these challenges, powerful earthquakes struck the western part of the country on October 7, 2023, claiming at least 2,000 lives — the deadliest tremors in years. The earthquakes, centered about 25 miles northwest of the city of Herat, included a magnitude 6.3 event, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

These earthquakes in Afghanistan were among the deadliest earthquakes around the world in 2023, following February earthquakes in southern Turkey (officially the Republic of Türkiye) and Syria, which claimed an estimated 55,000 lives.

Afghanistan crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Explore facts and frequently asked questions about the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and learn how to help Afghan children and their families.

Fast facts: Afghanistan crisis

  • Afghanistan is currently facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, worsened by earthquakes on October 7, 2023.
  • The landlocked country has been entangled in conflict, drought, extreme poverty, and natural disasters, including two devastating earthquake events in 2022 and 2023.
  • The October 2023 earthquakes, including the 6.3 magnitude quake, caused 2,000 deaths and left over 4,000 people injured and 1,400 people displaced in the Herat province in western Afghanistan.
  • Even prior to the deadly earthquakes, more than 29 million people — two thirds of the Afghan population — needed humanitarian aid and protection in 2023.
  • Over 15 million people face acute food insecurity, with 2.8 million in emergency levels (one step away from famine), according to the World Food Programme.
  • At the end of 2022, 875,000 children under 5 needed life-saving treatment for severe wasting, the most visible and potentially life-threatening form of malnutrition.

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Aid workers rush to the scene of devastation after a deadly earthquake in Herat.
World Vision is responding to affected communities in the aftermath of the earthquakes that hit western Afghanistan on October 7, 2023. (©2023 World Vision)

What’s World Vision doing to help Afghan people impacted by the earthquakes?

World Vision continues its life-saving mobile health and nutrition projects as we gain access to areas with the greatest need. However, the devastation has created tremendous challenges, as rocks and rubble have blocked roads, making access difficult. In addition to these challenges, many World Vision staff and their families are in shock.

Our team and staff, responsible for operating 10 of our mobile health clinics, are working tirelessly in areas most severely affected by the earthquakes. Within a day of the October 2023 earthquakes, we distributed 300 non-food item kits to people impacted by the emergency.

“The situation is worse than we imagined with people in devastated villages still desperately trying to rescue survivors from under the rubble with their bare hands,” said Thamindri de Silva, national director for World Vision’s Afghanistan office on October 8, 2023. “Reinforcements from Kabul and the military have arrived this afternoon but there is only one hospital, and it is at full stretch with serious cases being transferred to other private facilities in the city. Our colleagues and their families are processing this devastation in their hometowns, and yet we are responding with everything we have. People need urgent medical care, water, food, shelter and help to stay safe. Please stand with us as we respond.”

Read about World Vision’s concerns about the impacts of recent earthquakes on Afghan children.

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Where is World Vision working in Afghanistan?

In addition to the earthquake-devastated communities in Herat, we’re also serving children and families in the northwestern provinces of Badghis, Faryab, and Ghor — over 3,000 villages combined. Through our long-standing partnership with local community leaders in Afghanistan for many years, we’ve been able to respond to crises and equip these communities to create positive, sustainable change.

In 2022, we reached 1,369,562 people — half of them children — through our interventions in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and child protection, livelihoods, and food security. As of September 2022, we had 59 operational mobile clinics focused on feeding malnourished children and responding to urgent health concerns. About 180,230 people received primary healthcare services, including more than 64,500 children under 5 who were screened for malnutrition.

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How can I help Afghan children and their families?

  • Raise your voice: Join us in calling on Congress to help vulnerable, displaced Afghan families with basic needs and services through organizations committed to staying in Afghanistan — like World Vision.
  • Give: World Vision is committed to serving the people of Afghanistan for the long term. Your gift will help deliver essential aid to vulnerable children and families.

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What’s causing the Afghanistan humanitarian crisis?

Leading up to the October 2023 earthquakes, Afghanistan was already ravaged due to decades of conflict, displacement, poverty, and extreme weather. Compounding the extreme conditions is a hunger crisis.

To learn more about World Vision’s response, read Afghanistan crisis: Hunger in the land.”

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How many Afghans are forcibly displaced?

About 2.1 million people from Afghanistan are refugees and asylum-seekers living in neighboring countries, representing one of the largest long-term refugee situations in the world. According to the UNHCR, more than 770,000 Afghans were forced to flee their homes due to increasing violence and unrest in 2021.

Neighboring Pakistan hosts nearly 1.2 million Afghan refugees, including some second- and third-generation Afghans who have never lived in their home country.

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Why is Afghanistan facing a hunger crisis?

Recurrent drought, the COVID-19 pandemic, and years of conflict have all contributed to high levels of food insecurity in Afghanistan. Soaring food costs driven by the war in Ukraine have compounded the crisis. Malnutrition in children is exacerbated by poor childcare and feeding practices and by the spread of illnesses such as acute watery diarrhea. Afghans are also facing a water crisis, meaning communities are unable to get enough water for livestock and agriculture (as well as for drinking and hygiene).

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Treated for malnutrition, an Afghan child eats a packet of therapeutic food in Afghanistan.
A child eats a packet of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), a powerful, proven treatment for malnutrition, at a World Vision-supported health and nutrition program. (©2022 World Vision)

How have Afghan children been affected?

World Vision cares deeply about the needs and rights of children in Afghanistan, and we’re very concerned about their situation. Today, a projected 15.3 million children need life-saving aid in Afghanistan, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF). And 36% of Afghan children suffer from stunting — being small for their age — a common and largely irreversible effect of malnutrition. Drought and displacement caused by recent conflict and the secondary effects of COVID-19 have made conditions worse.

Without peace and humanitarian access, Afghanistan’s children are at significant risk of violence, neglect, abuse, exploitation, starvation, and worsening malnutrition. Situations like child marriagechild labor, family separation, and mass displacements — as families leave in search of food — are all likely to worsen. Already, parents in the most desperate situations are making the unimaginable decision to sell one daughter for dowry money so they can buy food for all their children.

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Maryam (face partially shown) sits near her father, who has a microphone clipped to his olive-green shirt. His face is not shown.
The impact of child marriage can be devastating in Afghanistan, where an estimated 28% of Afghan women were married before the age of 18 in 2021. Hunger, chronic poverty, and mounting debt drove the parents of 7-year-old Maryam* to sell their daughter for her dowry (the equivalent of $2,250) so they could buy food for their children. They’re now praying they can pay the money back; otherwise, they must give Maryam to the man as soon as she turns 13. *Name changed to protect identity. (©2022 World Vision)

How is the crisis impacting Afghan girls and women?

Girls and women in Afghanistan have suffered significant setbacks.

  • On March 23, 2022, Afghanistan’s de facto government reversed its initial promise to allow girls beyond sixth grade to attend school. The reversal shattered the hopes of secondary school-aged girls who were turned away from classrooms.
  • On December 20, 2022, the Taliban banned female students from attending universities in Afghanistan.
  • On December 24, 2022, de facto authorities ruled that all women were banned from working for NGOs.

The directive to ban women from working for NGOs makes it challenging for us to continue saving lives without violating the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality. With the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan worsening, the aid response needs to be doubled, not halved by restricting female staff.

World Vision is also deeply concerned by the limitations placed on girls’ and women’s access to education. Education is a fundamental right, including for adolescent girls and women. World Vision calls on the international community to make girls’ and women’s access to education a key priority in their engagement in Afghanistan. The safety and well-being of our staff and the people we serve is our priority.

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An Afghan man rides away on a donkey as a second burro carries supplies in the hilly desert terrain.
Severe drought and the toll of decades-long conflict have driven Afghan families from their farming communities to cities like Herat, where they now face rising food insecurity, hunger, and economic distress. (©2021 World Vision)

What’s happening with the drought in Afghanistan?

More than 15 people are facing high levels of food insecurity, exacerbated by drought and soaring food prices. Since October 2020, Afghanistan has been experiencing below-normal rainfall which has added to the severity of the country’s drought.

In Badghis Province, one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, severe drought conditions led to a failure of the 2020 winter harvest and also ravaged new crops that were planted for the 2021 spring growing season. It’s estimated that 60% of the livestock have died or been sold off at minimal value to provide for livelihoods and that 40% of wells have dried up because of water scarcity.

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