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Snapshot 16–23 April

Central African Republic: Renewed clashes between anti-balaka and Seleka fighters occurred in several locations in central, northern, and southwestern provinces. MISCA soldiers are being redeployed to cover areas previously secured by the Chadian contingent. A Christian religious leader was killed and four were abducted in two northern towns, while 30 Christian civilians were reportedly killed in a central town.

South Sudan: Approximately 600 people were reportedly killed across the country in fights between government and opposition forces and in inter-communal clashes. Opposition captured Bentiu, capital of oil-producing Unity state, from government forces. An IDP settlement site within a UN peacekeeping compound was attacked in Jonglei state. The number of IDPs in South Sudan rose to 916,900.

Syria: The Government announced that presidential elections will be held on 3 June. Heavy fighting is forcing renewed waves of displacement; some communities have been displaced multiple times. Access for humanitarian actors continues to be problematic due to the armed conflict and obstruction of activities by some parties, particularly in Deir-ez-Zor and Ar-Raqqa.

Last update: 23/04/2014   Next Update: 29/04/2014

Afghanistan Country Analysis

KEY DEVELOPMENTS

17 April: A higher number of violent incidents involving health workers were recorded in March 2014 than in the previous two months. Nine incidents were recorded across seven provinces, mostly in the east and south. In total 22 incidents affected humanitarians, including seven criminal incidents.

17 April: UNHCR reported that as of 31 March 659,960 people were displaced due to conflict. This figure represents an increase of 5,300 IDPs, including 2,970 people displaced in February (mostly in the north and west). Most of the displaced reside in Faryab (1550), Ghor (870), and Kabul (970).

16 April: The Global Polio Eradication Initiative reported four WPV1 cases in 2014. The most recent case dates from 25 February.

16 April: Humanitarian partners reported that around 2,800 people (or 400 families) were affected as a result of continuous rainfall in Kapisa province’s Hisa-i-Awali Kohistan, Hisa-i-Duwumi Kohistan, Koh Band, Nijrab, Mahmudi Raqi and Tagab districts. Of the affected, around 330 people are in need of humanitarian assistance. In Takhar province, around 800 people were displaced after a landslide in Rustaq district (Khowja Khairab village). Surrounding roads were temporarily closed. In Badakshan province, floods destroyed houses, agricultural land, and infrastructure in Teshkan and Kishim districts. In Ghor province, around 1,100 people were affected by a flash flood in Du Layna district.

KEY CONCERNS

- Throughout 2013, the Taliban has intensified attacks against foreign and local military and humanitarian targets as the country prepares for the withdrawal of NATO-led troops. According to UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan figures, 2,959 civilians were killed during 2013 (OCHA, March 2014). In the first months of 2014, violence escalated ahead of the 5 April presidential and provincial council elections.

- Protracted conflict has triggered massive displacement, with over five million Afghans in Pakistan and Iran. Over 647,000 people are internally displaced; 113,000 people were displaced in 2013 (UNHCR; OCHA, February 2014).

- Other main humanitarian needs are also conflict-induced. An estimated 7.7 million people are in need of protection, and 2.2 million are classified as severely food insecure. The conflict has caused widespread disruption to health services (OCHA).

Politics and Security                                                       

As the NATO force has started withdrawing and handing over security to local troops, peace seems to be more elusive than ever. The bulk of the 86,000 foreign troops are scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014. Since the beginning of 2013, insurgent numbers have reportedly increased by 15% while Afghan security forces and civilian causalities are now close to the record levels registered during the peak of the insurgency in 2011. So far, the central authorities have not been able to deal a decisive blow to the insurgents, who continue to control remote parts of the south and southeast, near the border with Pakistan. The April 2014 presidential election is a test for the country’s stability, but with no significant progress in talks with even part of the Afghan Taliban, more attacks and further destabilisation are expected.

Afghanistan–Pakistan

In mid-January, police and militant sources said at least two Afghan Taliban commanders had been killed in the Pakistani city of Quetta. It is unclear whether the commanders were targeted by Afghan or Pakistan security forces, or killed as a result of infighting within the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban movements. Since the beginning of 2013, at least 18 Afghan Taliban have been killed in similar attacks.

The Pakistani Taliban recently appointed a new leader, who refused peace talks with Islamabad, reversing his predecessor’s stance. Disagreement over talks with authorities has also intensified within the Afghan branch. Taliban sources from both sides blame the killings on Afghan and Pakistani security forces.

International Military Presence and Afghan–US Relations

On 14 December, President Karzai restated that he had no intention of backing down from the demands he outlined before agreeing to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US.  Afghan conditions for the BSA include an immediate end to US military raids of Afghan homes, the need for a clear US commitment to peace talks with the Taliban, and the handover of the remaining Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The Afghan leader also requested a commitment from Washington to refrain from backing any candidate in the elections, a stark reminder of blame placed on the US for meddling in the 2009 presidential election. Despite mounting pressure from Washington in January, Karzai is refusing to sign the BSA. On 25 January, Karzai further toughened his stance, openly stating that, in exchange for the BSA, the US should restart peace talks with the Taliban. The Afghan leader added that Washington should leave if it is unable to do so.

Some observers believe that Karzai prefers to leave the decision to sign the BSA to his successor and that the US might be ready to wait until then. On 13 February, Germany's foreign minister indicated that he had received assurances from the Afghan President that Kabul will sign the BSA without amending it. However, Karzai continues to give no indication of the timing. 

While Karzai’s reluctance to sign the BSA is seen as a high-risk gamble by the international community, local supporters argue that his move is aimed at appeasing the Taliban, at a time when Kabul is trying to engage in peace talks with the insurgents. Local opponents continue to accuse the Afghan leader of trying to use the security pact to secure influence in the elections and of attempting to dissociate himself from the US before leaving power.

In response to Karzai’s demands, US officials have repeatedly indicated that, without the prompt signature of a security pact, Washington would implement a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to official sources, the US had planned, as part of the BSA, to leave more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for counter-terrorism and training. Failure to sign the bilateral pact could lead to the end of US financial support and disruption of broader western aid. To date, Washington has reportedly not made any decision on the matter, nor has it indicated any deadline, though government sources suggested the US is likely to give Afghanistan a year-end deadline. Against the background of the rising insurgency in Afghanistan, which is predicted to worsen, the presence of American military personnel is seen as vital for the stability of post-2014 Afghanistan.

Most of the over 86,000 international troops, including an estimated 60,000 US personnel, are scheduled to withdraw by end 2014. Over 75% of the country was expected to be under national security control by end July 2013, following the formal handover of national security from the US-led NATO coalition to Afghan forces in June. Within the US-led NATO coalition, there is widespread concern regarding the capacity of the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces to cope with the insurgency. As reported by an Afghan official in early September, police deaths have nearly doubled since NATO forces started withdrawing. An estimated 1,792 Afghan policemen died, and over 2,700 were wounded between April and September 2013.

National Political Context

April Presidential Elections

On 5 April, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) reported that around seven million people turned out to vote in the presidential and provincial council elections. Polling day passed off without major attacks by militants. Overall, the turnout of over 50% was larger than expected. Preliminary results are due on 24 April. If no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, a runoff is set for late May.

On 15 March, the EU sent its Election Assessment Team to Afghanistan, upon Afghan request, to monitor the elections. Following the 20 March Taliban attack against a hotel in Kabul, the two other major international election observer missions, the US National Democratic Institute and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) announced the withdrawal of their staff from the country.

Campaigning got under way in early February amid concerns over the country’s ability to hold polls because of rising insecurity. In the near-absence of a party political system, the elections are likely to be determined by votes based on identity politics. According to international observers, there are no favourite candidates to succeed President Karzai, Afghanistan’s only leader since the US intervention in 2001.

According to observers, the frontrunners and main candidates for the elections are: Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a Pashtun and US-trained anthropologist who has chosen the Uzbek ex-warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum as a running mate; Zalmay Rassoul, a Pashtun educated in France and former foreign minister who is reportedly close to President Karzai and supported by Karzai’s brother (who withdrew from the race on 6 March, in a bid to consolidate a pro-Karzai candidate); Abdullah Abdullah, Tajik, a former ophthalmologist turned Mujahidin in the 1980s who ran against Karzai in 2009, but in whose administration he was foreign minister up to 2006; Abdul Rahim Wardak, a Pashtun and former guerrilla commander who was defence minister for eight years; and Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf, a Pashtun ex-warlord who is believed to be one of the few hardline Islamist commanders to oppose the Taliban.

In mid-February, Hezb-e-Islami, a major Afghan militant group, active since the 1980s and led by former Prime Minister Hekmatyar, called on supporters to vote for candidate Qutbuddin Hilal, who is not a main contender, but used to be part of Hezb-e-Islami. Some observers see this development as a major crack in the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, as it is likely to add legitimacy to future polls. Since the announcement, informal militant sources have reported rifts within the Taliban ranks. On 5 March, the Hezb-e-Islami Shura Alliance, mostly consisting of members of Hezb-e-Islami who have separated from the leadership of Hekmatyar, announced its support for presidential candidate Zalmay Rassoul, who already has the support of Karzai’s brother.

The Taliban has announced that it would boycott the 2014 presidential elections and continue fighting until all foreign troops leave the country. On 11 March, the Taliban issued a statement in which they warned Afghans not to participate in the polls, saying it will use force to disrupt voting. Two teams working for frontrunners were attacked during campaigning. During the 2009 elections, the Taliban were responsible for 73 violent incidents on polling day alone, which cost the lives of at least 30 civilians and 26 soldiers.

Release of Detainees

On 13 February, the Government released 65 detainees despite repeated warnings from the US that the detainees were dangerous and linked to the killing of Afghan and foreign troops in Afghanistan. The prisoners are part of a larger group of detainees transferred to Afghan authority in 2013 as one milestone in the US and NATO transition out of Afghanistan. The 65 were part of a group of 88 whose proposed release by Afghan authorities prompted US objections in early January. Detained at the jail at the Bagram air base north of Kabul, the release is likely to further strain relations between Kabul and Washington. On 14 February, the US indicated that it did not currently plan actively to target any of the 65 detainees released by the Afghan authorities, although President Karzai’s official rejection of US criticism the previous day had further inflamed tensions between the two countries.

Peace Talks with the Taliban

Several attempts were made by Kabul and the US to re-launch peace talks with the Afghan Taliban in 2013. Since 2001, Karzai’s Government has cultivated informal contacts with current and former Taliban figures and seems to have renewed efforts to establish a dialogue with militant representatives in recent months, according to observers. To date, both Washington and Kabul remain interested in peace negotiations with the insurgents. Although various official and informal sources have evoked renewed preliminary contacts, no substantial talks have yet been launched.

In late March, militants and security sources reportedly indicated that the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have secretly agreed to conduct a concerted insurgency in Afghanistan, with Pakistani militants announcing a ceasefire with Islamabad in order to preserve militant bases used to stage cross-border attacks.

Afghan-led Initiatives

On 19 February, a Taliban spokesman restated that insurgents are still opposed to negotiations, and reported that they were not involved in a recent meeting in Dubai between former and current Taliban figures who appeared open to talks with the Government. On 16 February, Kabul officials reported that a delegation from the High Peace Council, a government body launched to promote a political end to the conflict, had travelled to Dubai to meet a group of former and current Taliban figures that had allegedly floated the possibility of talks. The aim was to build on an informal meeting held in the same city earlier in February. No additional comments are available from Afghan authorities.

In late January, a senior Pakistani official said that Islamabad sees a chance to resume peace talks, stalled since summer, between Afghanistan and the Taliban in April after Karzai steps down following presidential elections. According to observers, Islamabad is likely to play a crucial role in any renewed peace initiative in Afghanistan. However, the comment suggests reluctance on the Taliban’s side to engage with the Karzai administration. Afghan authorities are trying to engage Taliban leaders in Pakistan to reach to Taliban groups in Afghanistan while the rift between Kabul and Washington widens.

On 30 November, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif met Afghan President Karzai in Kabul as part of ongoing efforts to launch a peace process in Afghanistan before NATO troops withdraw. Sharif, visiting for the first time since taking office in May, promised he would help arrange further meetings between Afghan officials and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former Taliban second-in-command and reported friend of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Baradar, captured in Pakistan in 2010, is considered by Kabul as key to reaching moderate Taliban commanders and involve them in the peace talks.

US-led Initiatives

On 23 February, the Taliban indicated that it had effectively suspended talks over a possible exchange of Taliban and US prisoners due to what the insurgents called the "complexity" of the situation in Afghanistan. The statement came as Washington officials had hinted at renewed contacts with the Afghan insurgents the previous week. Renewed contacts, which was supposed to lead to negotiations between the US and the Taliban, has been cited by Karzai as a necessary step before Kabul agrees to sign the BSA.

In August, tentative peace talks staged by the US in Qatar with the Taliban were interrupted after Kabul was outraged by the talks not being Afghan-led. In mid-August, a senior Afghan peace negotiator and former Taliban diplomat, now working with the Karzai Government, reported that the resumption of peace talks in Qatar with the Taliban looked unlikely.

Security Context

Since they vowed to start a new campaign in April 2013, using insider attacks as a key tactic against foreign and Afghan military force targets, the Taliban has intensified activities in Afghanistan as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdraws. Since May, insurgents have targeted foreign military, humanitarian personnel, and civilians seen to cooperate with the Government. A Taliban spokesperson indicated in June that the insurgents have no intention of changing tactics despite possible peace talks. The east and the southeast are most affected by violence, although an increasing numbers of attacks are hitting the northwest and Kabul.

On 7 April 2014, a roadside bomb killed 15 civilians and wounded five others on the outskirts of Maiwand district, in the southern Kandahar province. Although the attack was blamed on Taliban militants, there was no immediate claim of responsibility. In the first three months of 2014, the UN recorded the deaths of 187 civilians and injuries to another 357 from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a casualty number up 13% compared to the same period in 2013.

On 6 April, a roadside bomb hit a truck carrying ballot boxes in the north of the country, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Although polling day appeared to pass without major disruption, the Taliban claimed that they staged more than 1,000 attacks and killed dozens on 5 April, but security officials argued this was a gross exaggeration, adding that there were dozens of minor roadside bombs and attacks on polling stations, police and voters, but that the overall level of violence was much lower than the militants had threatened.

More than 350,000 security forces were deployed, and rings of checkpoints and roadblocks secured Kabul. In the south and southeast, observers indicated that 14% of polling stations did not open as the military were unable to provide security in areas where the Taliban presence is strong. Casualties were reported from small incidents around the country.

Observers fear that, considering the wave of attacks in the run-up to the vote, the Taliban may have deliberately laid low to give a false impression of improving security.

On 2 April, a Taliban suicide attack targeted the closely-guarded Afghan interior ministry in Kabul, killing six police officers. On the same day near the Pakistan border, a bomb attack killed at least two people and injured another 13 in the Vash Mandi area, Kandahar province. While the incident was not immediately claimed, Afghan officials indicated Taliban insurgents were likely responsible.

In March, attacks across the country killed over 55 people including over 40 civilians. Suicide bombings targeted civilians in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Faryab, and in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Violence targeted elections and campaign workers, as well as the Kabul Headquarters of the IEC, attacked twice in late March: these incidents caused the deaths of 19 civilians, two policemen and 10 militants. Mid-March, Reporters without Borders announced that since the beginning of the presidential election campaign in February, it had recorded 20 violent incidents against local journalists.

In February, a high-profile attack on an Afghan army outpost in the eastern Kunar province killed 21 soldiers, as the US and Kabul attempted to launch peace talks with the Taliban. A series of other attacks targeted mostly security forces and foreign military troops, and killed at least five people.

In January, several attacks were recorded in Kabul and surroundings, targeting mostly Afghan and NATO military personnel. A high-profile attack in the capital’s diplomatic district killed over 20 people, including foreign UN and IMF workers.

As indicated in a February UNAMA report, the number of civilians killed or injured in 2013 increased from 2012. The report documented 2,959 civilian killed and 5,656 injured in 2013. These figures mark a 7% increase in deaths and a 17% increase in injuries compared to 2012 and are similar to record high numbers of civilian casualties documented in 2011. The new figures further suggest a slight increase in the number of killed and injured during the second part 2013.

While improvised explosive devices used by anti-government elements were the biggest killer of civilians in 2013, increased ground engagements between pro-government forces and anti-government armed groups emerged as the number two cause of civilian casualties, with rising numbers of Afghan civilians killed and injured in cross-fire. UNAMA attributed 74% of casualties to insurgent groups, 8% to Afghan National Security Forces, 3% to international forces, and 10% to ground fighting between the two the insurgents and pro-Government forces, and 5% of casualties were unattributed. 

Military Operations

According to a US report, Afghan troop casualties climbed by 79% during key fighting months in 2013, as the Taliban intensified attacks amid NATO’s ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan. In parallel, NATO casualties fell by 59% from April to September. While US officials acknowledged that Afghan troop combat capabilities have improved, the report suggests that the National Security Forces would be at risk without international support after 2014. In August, Afghan military sources reported that insurgent numbers were up 15% on 2013 summer fighting months.

On 15 January, new tensions arose between Kabul and Washington after the Afghan president blamed the US for an air raid in Parwan province that killed Afghan civilians. ISAF reported that a joint force of Afghan troops and foreign soldiers called in the strike after being ambushed by Taliban insurgents. Accidental civilian deaths during ISAF airstrikes have been a major source of friction between Washington and Kabul.

Humanitarian Context and Needs

Access

Climatic Conditions

The severe winter has created additional logistical constraints for humanitarian access. On 10 February, ECHO reported that some access roads were blocked between the provincial capitals and districts. The most affected provinces are Kunduz, Saripul, Daykundi, Helmand, Herat, Badakhshan, Takhar, and Jawzjan in central and northern Afghanistan. As reported by OCHA in February, many of the 13 passes in Ghor province are closed during winter with snow hampering movement along main transport axes.

Insecurity and Attacks against Aid Workers

Active hostilities and threats of violence continue to impede humanitarian access, with contested areas remaining the most problematic. Movement restrictions are increasingly applied to aid workers. From January to end March, 57 incidents of violence targeted humanitarian aid workers.

On 17 April, OCHA reported that a higher number of violent incidents on health workers were recorded in March 2014 than the previous two months. Nine incidents were recorded across seven provinces, mostly in the east and south. In total, 22 incidents involved humanitarians, including seven criminal incidents. Seven people were killed, three were injured, two were abducted and one person was arrested and detained. The central region registered eight incidents, including five crimes in Kabul; six incidents were registered in the south, four in the east, three in the west, and one in the north.

OCHA added that in Sangin district, Helmand province, three immunisation campaign personnel were killed by an IED, and another volunteer was stabbed during a dispute with a local resident. One immunisation supervisor was abducted while in transit and released shortly afterward. In the northeast, a hospital was robbed in Takhar province. In Kunar province, an NGO vaccinator along with five other people were arrested and remain in custody, and an NGO clinic was severely damaged in an attack in its vicinity. In the eastern province of Nangahar, five polio vaccinators and their driver were abducted. They were released within hours following negotiations by local elders. In the southwestern province of Nimroz, an NGO ambulance was destroyed by an IED.

On 28 March, Taliban militants attacked a guesthouse used by a US anti-landmine charity in Kabul, killing two people. In February, insecurity severely constrained operations across several Afghan provinces. Two fatalities were reported amongst aid workers in Helmand, and the body of an aid worker was found in Balkh.

In Farah province, humanitarian organisations are severely constrained in their movement outside of Farah city with almost no work taking place in the east and north. In Ghor province, NGO movements outside of the provincial capital are also several constrained. In Herat province, districts in the north and south remain largely off-limits with five NGO staff reportedly killed after being abducted in the district of Gulran. The main transport axis is also unsafe with increasing militant presence in rural areas.

As of 30 November, OCHA recorded 266 incidences against humanitarian personnel, facilities and assets in 2013, including 37 deaths, 28 arrests and detentions, 47 injuries and the abduction of 80 personnel. October OCHA reports indicated that over 55% of incidents are attributed to insurgent elements, but there is a significant rise in incidents attributed to pro-government forces, especially in contested areas. With high-profile attacks against ICRC and IOM compounds in May, security incidents involving aid workers were on the rise in 2013 compared to 2012 when only 175 incidents, including 11 deaths, were recorded over the whole year.

Displacement

IDPs

UNHCR reported that as of 31 March 659,960 people were displaced due to conflict. This figure represents an increase of 5,300, including 2,970 people displaced in February, mostly in Herat, Helmand, Ghor, Farah, and Badghis provinces. Most of the country is vulnerable to new waves of displacement due to conflict and natural disasters. On 11 February, the Government launched a policy aimed at providing a systematic framework for addressing internal displacement issues.

In 2013, conflict-induced displacement led to acute humanitarian needs, with a marked increase in previously stable provinces in the north, particularly Faryab and Badakhshan, noted OCHA. In mid-December, OCHA reported that the number of IDPs rose from 80,000 in 2011 to 113,000 in 2013. An estimated 60,000 people were displaced in northwestern Faryab province because of conflict, according to OCHA on 30 November 2013.

In early December, additional displacement was recorded in Ghor, Daykundi, and Bamyan provinces in the central highlands following drought-like conditions and crop failure. As of 30 November, an estimated 4,700 people were displaced around Herat and Ghor areas and had registered for assistance.

Returnees

UNHCR reported that in March 2014, a total of 1,351 Afghan refugees voluntarily repatriated to Afghanistan. Of the returnees, 821 came from Iran (mostly from Tehran and Esfahan), 524 from Pakistan (mostly from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan). 

From January to March, a total of 2,346 Afghan refugees voluntarily repatriated to Afghanistan. This figure represents a sharp decrease (56%) compared to the same period last year, primarily due to the winter season, the extension of Proof of Registration cards in Pakistan until 31 December 2015, and the uncertain situation leading up to the elections in Afghanistan.  

Afghan Refugees in Other Countries

According to UNHCR and IOM, as of 31 December, there were an estimated 2.4 million Afghan refugees and illegal migrants in Iran, including one million undocumented Afghans. Roughly 2.9 million Afghan refugees and illegal migrants, including one million undocumented Afghans, are in Pakistan. An estimated 200,000 Afghan refugees are registered in other countries. The protracted Afghan refugee crisis is placing an increased humanitarian burden on neighbouring countries and triggering tensions as Iran and Pakistan push for their repatriation.

As reported by Human Rights Watch in late November, Afghan refugees in Iran face persecution, arbitrary arrest, detention, beatings and harassment by authorities. Pakistan agreed this summer not to expel Afghan refugees who had permission to stay in the country until June. At a UN-backed meeting, Kabul and Islamabad agreed to continue efforts to solve the protracted refugee situation; 60% of Afghan refugees are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where they are triggering tensions in Pakistan.

Disasters

On 16 April, humanitarian partners reported that in March around 2,800 people (or 400 families) were affected by continuous rainfall in Kapisa province’s Hisa-i-Awali Kohistan, Hisa-i-Duwumi Kohistan, Koh Band, Nijrab, Mahmudi Raqi and Tagab districts. Of the affected, around 330 people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

In Takhar province, around 800 people were displaced after a landslide in Rustaq district (Khowja Khairab village) in the northeast. Some 30 families were affected by a flash flood in Chah Ab district (Bashir Abad village). Surrounding roads were temporarily closed.

In Badakshan province, floods destroyed houses, agricultural land, and infrastructure in Teshkan and Kishim districts.

In Ghor province, around 1,100 people were affected by a flash flood in Du Layna district (Korab Cheshma Safid village).

On 12 April, a landslide triggered by heavy rains and a small earthquake swept through two villages in Takhar province. The disaster killed at least four people, destroyed around 100 houses, and an unknown number of people moved to higher ground for safety.

Although accurate information is scarce, humanitarian sources have reported that the winter season has put many Afghans at further risk, especially the 647,000 IDPs. The affected people are reportedly in need of shelter and food. Humanitarian sources say the Government response is lacking. Information remains limited, but ECHO reported that severe weather and heavy snow was affecting vulnerable families, including IDPs, in seven provinces. Local sources indicate that 63 people have died and 12 been injured; 100,000 livestock are also at risk. Provinces in central and northern Afghanistan are the most severely affected.

In late January, ECHO reported that heavy snowfall and low temperatures continue to affect northern Darz Aab and Qush Tepa districts of Jawzjan province. As of February, reports indicated that Kunduz, Saripul, Daykundi, Helmand, Herat, Badakhshan, Takhar, and Jawzjan in central and northern Afghanistan were most heavily affected by harsh winter conditions. In late February, USAID indicated that Balkh province was also affected. At 19 March, according to IOM, heavy rainfall and flash floods were affecting much of the country, causing small-scale displacement and casualties.

Food Security

According to OCHA in mid-December, an estimated 2.2 million people were classified as severely food insecure. A further eight million people are considered food insecure. Households in the extreme northeast, especially in Badakhshan province, central highlands, low-income and disaster-affected households across the country, and IDPs are especially vulnerable to food insecurity. As reported by FEWSNET in February, western central highlands will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels of food security from January to March, due to the strain on usual food sources and the replacement by external assistance. Resumption of seasonal livelihood activities is expected to improve food security outcomes to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from April to June.

After dryness caused crop failues, an estimated 2,700 people in eastern Ghor and Herat areas needed food assistance in October, and had moved to urban centres in search of income to buy food.

Agriculture and Markets

As of March, according to OCHA, the seasonal precipitation in nine of the major wheat-producing provinces that rely primarily on rain-fed crops is half or less of the long-term average. This is particularly the case for Kunduz, Takhar, Jawzjan and Badakhshan. March to June are critical months for rainfall in the wheat-growing season.

In late September OCHA reported that vulnerable households are facing a tough winter after dryness in the growing season caused crop failures in Ghor, Daykundi, and Bamyan provinces in the central highlands. A WFP/FEWSNET mission reported that 80% of rain-fed areas and 24% of irrigated areas were affected.

According to a mid-August WFP report, a preliminary forecast put the 2013 wheat production at 4.9 million metric tons, slightly below the 2012 harvest, the second highest for 35 years. However, large differences exist between provinces. Smaller wheat harvests were gathered in Faryab, Ghor, Jawzjan, and Khost due to dry spells and early rains combined with wheat rust in some areas.

As reported by the WFP in February, the average wheat grain retail price in main Afghan cities increased between August 2012 and March 2013. Wheat prices then decreased from April to June 2013 only to slightly increase again from July 2013 to January 2014. The January average price of wheat in main cities was slightly higher by 5.9% in comparison to the same time last year, and significantly higher by 15.9% compared to the last 5-year average price of the same months.

The January price for wheat flour was slightly lower, by 4.5%, compared to the same month in 2013, and significantly increased by 12.6% compared to the last 5-year average price of the same months. The January average price for low quality rice, the second main staple food, was slightly lower by 4.8% compared to the same month in 2013, and significantly higher by 23.3% compared to the last 5-year average price of the same months. By comparison, the January average price of high quality rice was significantly higher by 11.5% compared to the same month last year, and by 33.4% compared to the last 5-year average price of the same months.

Health and Nutrition

According to OCHA, the number of people in need of access to health services has increased from 3.3 to 5.4 million. Conflict-related hospital admissions increased by 42% from January to April 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. In Helmand province, there was an almost 80% increase in hospitalised injuries caused by conflict in 2013. The Health Cluster reported a 40% increase in security incidents from January to April 2013 compared to 2012. 2013 saw a 60% increase in the number of people being treated for weapon wounds, stretching trauma care needs beyond the existing response capacity. The conflict is causing widespread disruption to health services.

Polio

As of 16 April, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reported that four wild polio (WPV1) cases have been reported so far in 2014. The most recent case dates from 25 February.

On 11 February, Afghan authorities reported on the first confirmed polio case in Kabul since 2001. An emergency vaccination campaign was launched in the capital. Medical sources stated that this case might have been contracted in Pakistan. Polio remains endemic in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Malnutrition

According to figures from OCHA in mid-June, 125,690 children under five suffer acute malnutrition, including 28,650 who have severe acute malnutrition.

Updated: 22/04/2014

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