|Population||UN Population Division (as of 2016)|
|Number of IDPs (Conflict and violence)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|New displacements (Conflict and violence)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|New displacements (Disasters)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|Refugees||UNHCR (as of 2016)|
|Displacement type||New Displacement (Flow)||IDPs (Stock)|
|Geographical disaggregation||Admin 2 or more||Admin 2 or more|
|Frequency of reporting||More than once a month||Other|
|Disaggregation on sex||Yes||No|
|Disaggregation on age||Partial||No|
|Data triangulation||No triangulation||Contradictory data|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No|
|Data on returns||No||Yes|
|Data on local integration||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No|
Based on multiple sources, these estimates include both IDPs and returnees to Afghanistan, primarily from Iran and Pakistan. Some returnees have been included in our stock figure based on contextual evidence from partners in the field.Download extended figures analysis (PDF, 44 KB)
Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous and crisis-ridden countries in the world. A number of factors, including conflict and disasters brought on by natural hazards and development projects, often combine to cause internal displacement. Widespread unemployment, poverty, landlessness and a lack of basic services complicate the situation even further.
Continuous armed conflict, insecurity, human rights violations and recurrent disasters mean that flight and mobility have been familiar coping strategies for many Afghans for almost four decades. Large numbers of people in Afghanistan have experienced some form of displacement in their lives.
Afghanistan has been in a state of protracted conflict for more than 35 years, hampering interventions to reduce poverty, limiting development and straining the social fabric and coping mechanisms. The country’s history of displacement driven by conflict goes back to the late 1970s. During the war between its Soviet-backed government and mujahideen opposition fighters, and during the subsequent Soviet invasion and occupation, up to five million people were forced to flee the country.
After the fall of the communist government in 1992, civil war between mujahideen factions divided along ethnic lines spread throughout Afghanistan, and by 2001 the war had displaced 400,000 people into camps near Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat. The Taliban rose to power in 1996, and the intense conflict between the Taliban’s mainly Pashtun forces and mujahideen fighters from Tajik, Uzbek and other ethnic groups displaced an additional million people.
In response to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, perpetrated by members of the Taliban-backed al-Qaeda network, NATO established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and intervened militarily in Afghanistan. US forces launched their own parallel intervention. Conflict between the US-backed Northern Alliance and the Taliban and its supporters continued, as did inter-ethnic violence, and this combination of factors culminated in years of large-scale internal displacement.
Conflict in Afghanistan continues to destabilise society, cause civilian casualties and result in large-scale displacement. The number of people internally displaced by conflict has been on the rise since 2009, driven by an increase in violence by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and counterinsurgency operations by national and, to a lesser extent, the remaining international security forces. Conflict and violence displaced an estimated 652,000 people in 2016, resulting in a 66 per cent increase in displacement related to conflict.
Disasters brought on by natural hazards have also caused people to flee their homes, in some cases affecting people already displaced by conflict and violence. Disasters often worsen the effects of conflict, and it is sometimes a combination of both factors that forces people to flee.
Afghanistan’s topography is dominated by mountain ranges that cover all but the north-central and south-western regions of the country, which consist of plains and desert. Seasonal rainfall, floods and the resulting landslides regularly affect the northern and north-eastern regions, destroying homes and infrastructure and driving displacement.
The country is also exposed to drought, earthquakes, extreme temperatures, avalanches and storms. Earthquakes are frequent in the northern parts of the country and often trigger large landslides. Flooding and mudslides are also common, particularly during spring, and extreme winter conditions and avalanches are common in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan, which make up approximately 63 per cent of the country. The high levels of poverty and illiteracy, lack of income-generating opportunities, chronic health problems and poor infrastructure prevalent in the country have resulted in high vulnerability among people living in areas exposed to those hazards.
Disasters affect an average of 200,000 people a year in Afghanistan. Droughts from lack of rain, or floods and mudslides due to melting snow, directly influence the income and economic stability of the country’s households. Their vulnerability has increased because of the frequency of disasters and insufficient investment in disaster risk reduction strategies.
Most of Afghanistan’s provinces have been affected by displacement caused by conflict. By 2016, after an intensification of violence across the north and north-east in 2015, all 34 provinces were hosting IDPs and 31 had recorded incidents of displacement.
People displaced by conflict and violence tend to make efforts to stay close to their homes, moving from rural areas to the provincial capital or a neighbouring province. Many seek shelter with host communities or, in the case of those who flee to urban areas, in informal or unplanned settlements. Those who flee to the cities from rural areas do so because they believe cities are relatively safe and provide better access to infrastructure, services and livelihoods.
Some IDPs flee violence for a relatively short time, but many others are displaced for longer periods. Internal displacement is becoming more protracted, as the deteriorating security situation has made it difficult for people to return home. As early as 2012, a survey of more than 1,000 displaced households found that 11 per cent had been displaced for over a decade, while nearly 50 per cent had been displaced since 2009. IDPs living in protracted displacement struggle to meet their families’ food needs and find employment just as much as those who have been displaced more recently.
Magnifying the displacement crisis, the forced and spontaneous return of Afghans from Europe, Iran and Pakistan increased dramatically in 2016. This development threatened to worsen the displacement and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan. More than 600,000 registered and undocumented returnees arrived in eastern Afghanistan between July and December 2016, and another million Afghans are expected to return from Pakistan by the end of 2017.
These large-scale returns, whether forced, spontaneous or assisted, have prompted UN agencies and NGOs to warn that significant secondary displacement is likely, and the humanitarian country team for Afghanistan has said that it will bring about considerable needs. Undocumented and involuntary returnees and those unable to return to their areas of origin are at particular risk because they tend not to be monitored or assisted, but rather fall off the humanitarian agencies’ radar soon after returning. As such, they are likely to find themselves in a situation of internal displacement after returning to Afghanistan.
Regardless of the cause of their displacement, IDPs in Afghanistan tend to face similar protection challenges. The priority needs of IDPs, 56 per cent of whom are children, include protection, shelter and food security.
The severity and spread of the ongoing conflict exacted a heavy toll on Afghanistan in 2016, leading to an overall deterioration in civilian protection. IDPs suffer significantly higher rates of mortality than the general population, as they remain at high risk of physical attacks and abduction, and of being caught in crossfire, particularly when fleeing violence. Children are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, interrupted school attendance and child labour. Female IDPs face higher protection concerns and the risk of early and forced marriages.
IDPs in Afghanistan live in inadequate shelters, with nearly 30 per cent of IDPs in need of water, sanitation and hygiene support and 50 per cent requiring shelter support. Four out of five IDPs in the country require food assistance. The levels of acute malnutrition are higher than the emergency thresholds in 17 of 34 provinces, and more than one million children require treatment for acute malnutrition.