Afghanistan crisis strips humanitarian efforts back to basics

By Josie O’Brien

WITH the Taliban in full control of Afghanistan, the help global communities can offer is in question.

European countries closed their embassies, major Afghan city charities went into hiding and cash aid was frozen. 

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund stopped the financial support they once pumped into the country under Ashraf Ghani’s presidency and the EU halted its development assistance payments, despite committing $1.4 billion to the country between 2021 and 2024.

In an international donor conference held in November, which saw representatives from countries such as Britain, Finland and Qatar digitally attend, countries pledged a projected $12 billion US dollars foreign aid to Afghanistan in the next four years.

The future of this promise looks bleak under Taliban rule.

During the past decades, charities have worked in the South Asian country to advance quality of life, empower local communities and, in the words of Penny Appeal founder, Adeem Younis, “break the cycle of poverty”.

But charity participation also faces an uncertain fate. The displacement of thousands of Afghans means humanitarian efforts have been stripped back to basics. The focus has shifted from education, advanced health care and social restructuring to food, shelter and hygiene.

Penny Appeal is a global poverty relief charity set up by founder, Younis, in 2009. It has been operating in Afghanistan for nine years.

“In a way, it feels like we’ve almost… not failed, but gone back to the start,” Younis told Redaction Report.

Before the withdrawal of troops in July, Penny Appeal was helping Afghanistan tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The charity worked with partners in local communities to deliver hygiene packs, testing facilities and safety equipment. 

People would travel for hundreds of miles to attend a Penny Appeal-funded eye clinic as part of its ‘Open Your Eyes’ campaign.

According to the World Health Organisation, 2.2 billion people globally are visually impaired or blind and 89 per cent of these people live in the developing world.

The funded clinics offered sight and eye-health check-ups, minor surgery and day-to-day tools for optical health, such as glasses and eye drops. Patients that required major surgery were booked into a local hospital for treatment by the charity. 

Penny Appeal also established an end-of-life care programme in the country called ‘Adopt a Gran’, which provided residential and at-home services for the elderly. “We saw old people, quite literally, bouncing back to life again,” Younis said.

Now, humanitarian focus in Afghanistan has reverted to survival and basic needs. 

The charity is working with refugee camp-based partners to deliver shelter, hygiene kits and food packs to displaced people and families. It estimates that 390,000 people are displaced as a result of the escalating conflict.

“To see the initial need, the intervention, the success of the intervention, the success of establishing projects in communities, and then to see that going back again, to in many respects worse than it was before, is hard,” said Younis. “It was very fragile.”

Even emergency aid packages face an uncertain fate. “We try to fit as much as we can get into each emergency pack because the situation is very, very tight and those packs do change depending on what the resources and access to resources is like on the ground,” he added.

Hygiene kits costs £25 each and contain basic tools for personal health, such as women’s sanitary products, soap, combs and first aid equipment. Penny Appeal-backed workers in refugee camps also provide hygiene training.

Food packs cost £50 each and consist of non-perishable foods, such as soup, oils, rice, lentils and dried fruit and vegetables. 

As Penny Appeal’s ‘Afghanistan Emergency’ campaign progresses, the charity is thinking forward. Younis said there is talk in camps about refugees settling again in Afghanistan – some in their home villages, towns, or cities, others in a brand new area.

“For us, [resettling refugees in Afghanistan] would be ideal because it’s about rebuilding. The quicker that we move away from the emergency phase and emergency needs, we can look at rebuilding communities,” Younis said.

He added that he hopes the work the charity has done in the country for almost a decade has created lifelong skills in its people and solid social foundations for them to pick up off when the rebuilding phase begins.

Here in the UK, Penny Appeal is working with local councils to support refugees entering under the Conservative government’s resettlement scheme, which will offer sanctuary to 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next five years.

Spelthorne Borough Council in Surrey said last Tuesday Penny Appeal provided funds for clothing, toys, educational items and travel cards for the district’s first 58 Afghan refugees as they arrived. Also in the pipeline for funding is Nottingham City Council, Wakefield Council and Brent Council in London.

Penny Appeal’s work is possible through donations from the British public and its volunteers. “The enormity of the impact that we’ve had has been because we have really amazing people that get on board,” Younis said. 

Donations to Penny Appeal’s Afghanistan Emergency Response can be made here or through calling its 24 hour hotline on 03000 11 11 11.

Featured Image: DQttwo @WikimediaCommons

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