Aug. 15 marked one year since Kabul fell to Taliban forces. Now, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is considered one of the worst in the world – with civilians forced to bear the brunt of the country’s economic collapse and multiple natural disasters in the past year. But while NATO has “suspended all support” to Afghanistan given the nation’s new government, there are still ways to provide aid to the roughly 40 million Afghans still living under Taliban rule.
Though some aid groups and nongovernmental organizations that had been working in the region had to pull out when the Taliban came to power, others – such as U.N. agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Islamic Relief USA – have mobilized to continue providing resources to those in need. But getting aid into the country hasn’t been easy, organizers say.
For Islamic Relief USA, a Virginia-based nonprofit affiliated with the international humanitarian aid network helping the country, the past year has consisted of tireless fundraising, battling sanctions and working on the ground to bring humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities.
Photos: Afghanistan in Crisis
Anwar Khan, the president and co-founder of IRUSA, says a combination of factors has made it difficult for his organization to function under Taliban rule, especially in the beginning. Those have included other NGOs pulling out of the region, sanctions from the United States that temporarily suspended the group’s ability to work in the region and froze Afghan central bank assets, and issues sending money to Afghanistan via U.S. banks, Khan says.
Overall uncertainty following the Taliban takeover in 2021 temporarily stopped IRUSA from operating in Afghanistan altogether, with “bad actors” even attacking some of their employees in the region, says Khan. But because of their long-standing reputation in the area, the organization was able to resume service after a few weeks without any hindrance from Taliban forces. They set their initial focus on humanitarian relief – providing food kits and emergency supplies to Afghans in need.
Issues with banks have only made aid provision more difficult. The U.S. Treasury Department has advised that international banks can transfer money to Afghanistan for humanitarian purposes, but Khan says some financial institutions are still hesitant to do so, which makes it hard for monetary assistance to get into the country.
And while NGOs have been able to partially fill in the gaps left by the international withdrawal from Afghanistan, humanitarian assistance alone cannot revive Afghanistan’s failing economy, which Khan says has been in “free fall” since the Taliban’s takeover.
“You had the people who normally help with the health care and education pulling out, you had the governments that were funding most of the health care and education in Afghanistan pulling out, and you had their own economy in free fall,” Khan says. “This was a perfect trifecta for disaster – a financial, economic disaster, which led to a humanitarian disaster.”
Prior to August 2021, international assistance accounted for about 75% of all public spending in the country, according to a report from the Norwegian Refugee Council, a humanitarian NGO that serves displaced people globally. This, coupled with an increase in those with humanitarian need, makes the economic situation in Afghanistan particularly dire. At the start of 2021, there were 18.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid, which swelled to 24.4 million people in 2022 – more than half the country’s population.
“We are not … a replacement for the World Bank, we are not a replacement for the International Monetary Fund in terms of the economy,” says Neil Turner, the NRC’s country director for Afghanistan. “We are very much a humanitarian stopgap measure when what is actually needed is economic reconstruction and in certain cases, generally, the reestablishment of government who has the resources to provide better services.”
To try and stimulate Afghanistan’s economy, IRUSA has expanded their service in the region to include starting cash-flow programs that give money directly to families to spend on necessities, for example, and supporting women entrepreneurs to jump-start businesses and workers across skill levels.
“We’re not just giving handouts – we want people to kick-start the economy and to help them to help themselves,” Khan says. “Initially, it was just trying to keep them alive. Now it’s helping with the cash-for-work programs.”
While the work of NGOs is keeping many Afghan families afloat, humanitarian experts say that international assistance is needed to prevent the country’s complete collapse.
“The Afghan people are bearing the brunt of the inability of the international community to support economic and governmental structures in Afghanistan,” Turner says. “As far as I can tell, it is of course in nobody’s interest for the economic collapse of Afghanistan to remain, to be extended and to get worse – and certainly not in the interest of the Afghan people.”
Nevertheless, there are still many ways for people living abroad to help Afghans living under Taliban rule and get aid into Afghanistan. Khan urges those who can to donate to trusted organizations that have been working in the region for years, as well as to consider helping refugees that have been resettled locally. He also recommends contacting elected officials to push for making it easier for charities to send money to Afghanistan via banks.
“Pray, advocate and donate,” he says.