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Conflict-induced displacement and repatriation will lead to deteriorating outcomes this winter

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • October 2016 - May 2017
Conflict-induced displacement and repatriation will lead to deteriorating outcomes this winter

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • Household purchasing power has declined significantly in several markets, with casual labor to wheat flour terms of trade well below the five-year average in Mazar i Sharif (-26.4 percent), Faizabad (-23.9 percent), Maimana (-21.3 percent), Jalalabad (-16.5 percent), and Kandahar (-10.2 percent). The availability of casual labor has also decreased in most markets monitored since the start of data collection in 2014, with the greatest decline in Faizabad, followed by Kandahar and Nili.

    • UN OCHA estimates indicate that 411,000 people have been displaced by conflict since January 2016, including displacements in all 34 provinces. According to IOM estimates for 2016, more than 180,000 undocumented Afghanistan nationals have entered the country from Pakistan, the majority of whom are not able to access assistance.

    • Declining purchasing power and livelihoods disruption in many conflict-affected areas will contribute to increased food assistance needs as compared to recent years. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely among newly displaced people and undocumented returnees from Pakistan, as well as among poor households in the Central Highlands and in northeastern agro-pastoral areas (Figure 3), particularly during the peak lean season (January – April). 

    • Due to prevailing sea surface temperature (SST) conditions in the Pacific Ocean, there is an increased probability for below-average precipitation in eastern and southern Afghanistan during the 2016/2017 wet season through May.

    National overview

    Current Situation

    Agriculture sector conditions

    The 2015/2016 wheat harvest is near completion, and supplies have reached local markets. This year’s harvest is estimated to be similar to last year and near the five-year average. The harvests have helped poor households establish stocks, and have increased stock volumes for traders. Improved aggregate production of grains, including wheat, rice, maize, and others, as well as improved fruit production as compared to the previous season, have eased economic and physical access to the primary staple foods of wheat and wheat flour. During the period of high demand for agricultural labor for the May to August harvests, daily agricultural labor rates, which poor and landless households rely upon, were below previous years in some parts of the country. This decline in wages was largely due to reduced employment opportunities in other sectors, which increased the supply of agricultural labor.

    Near-average cumulative precipitation in most parts of the country during the October 2015 to May 2016 wet season resulted in adequate soil moisture and availability of water for irrigation of second crops, including maize, rice, cotton, and horticultural cash crops such as fruits and nuts, which constitute important sources of income throughout the country. However, below-average precipitation was observed in some areas, including Badakhshan, Jawzjan, Sari Pul, Faryab, Zabul, Hilmand, and Kunduz Provinces, where satellite estimates indicated precipitation between 60 and 80 percent of normal with the exception of Kunduz, where precipitation was below 60 percent of average. In some higher-elevation areas of the central highlands, including areas of Bamyan and Ghor Provinces, below-average temperatures reduced the availability of pasture and fodder for livestock. However, pasture conditions in the rest of the country were average to above average this year due to the favorable quantity and timing of precipitation. Good pasture conditions and water availability in most of the country facilitated animal health and good body conditions, which supported near-average livestock prices.

    Food prices and terms of trade

    Reductions in both wages and the availability of casual labor opportunities as well as above-average wheat flour prices in some markets have reduced the purchasing power of poor households, whose food access during significant portions of the year depends on market purchases with income earned from labor opportunities.

    Wheat flour prices are above the five-year average in the majority of reference markets (Figure 4). However, prices have remained slightly below those of 2015, despite a 2.25 percent depreciation of the AFN against the USD since January of 2016. This is primarily attributable to near-average domestic production and reduced wheat prices in Pakistan and Kazakhstan as compared to last year.

    Although prices in most markets are moderately above average, the ability of poor households to obtain the primary staple of wheat flour has been further reduced in some areas by declining wage rates. The purchasing power of a day of labor in relation to wheat flour is well-below the five-year average in the majority of markets monitored (Figure 5). Furthermore, according to monitoring data from WFP, the availability of labor has declined in several of these areas in 2016 through September as compared to 2014, most notably in Faizabad (- 50.9 percent), Kandahar (- 27.9 percent), and Nili (- 21.8 percent).

    Sheep to wheat flour terms of trade (ToT) vary across markets as compared to the five-year average, with the lowest value reported in Nili, where a one-year-old female sheep was worth 103 kg of wheat flour in September. The maximum value was in Jalalabad (289 kg). Demand for livestock increased seasonally in many parts of the country since the spring, in anticipation of Eid Qurban in late September.

    Households in several regions have begun purchasing grain stocks, particularly those living at higher elevations in the central and northeast highlands, in anticipation of minimal labor opportunities and poor market access during the winter. Market purchases in these regions typically peak in October and November. In Nili and Faizabad, the reference markets for the central highlands and northeast, respectively, poor households likely have lower capacity to make these purchases than in recent years, due to weak labor opportunities and low purchasing power.

    Conflict, internal displacement, and returnees

    Activities of the Taliban and other insurgent groups have led to increased displacement in recent years, with increased geographic breadth. Estimates of the conflict-displaced population in 2016 are well above those of last year, which was already the highest rate of displacement registered since 2002. UN OCHA estimates that 411,000 people have been displaced by conflict this year through October. Many displaced households experience major disruptions to normal livelihood activities. However, reports of restricted physical access to food have been limited to short time periods in localized areas.

    Following the deterioration of security and increase in military operations and fighting between non-government armed groups and Afghanistan’s security forces, displacements in the northern, northeastern, eastern, and southern regions have increased. As of October 2016, the largest populations of newly displaced IDPs identified as needing assistance were in Baghlan (37,002), Kunduz (27,881), Takhar (72,917), Badakhshan (17,570), Hilmand (52,024), Kandahar (25,853), and Uruzgan (27,593) Provinces. 

    Many displaced people have lost their normal livelihoods, and encounter few employment opportunities in their places of displacement. Many of these people are experiencing acute food insecurity, and will face greater difficulty in accessing adequate food with the onset of winter.

    Although precise estimates vary, approximately two million Afghans live in adjoining areas of Pakistan, many of whom fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979. In March 2002, UNHCR began facilitating the voluntary repatriation of Afghanistan nationals, with an estimated 5.7 million people returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan since then. This represents nearly 20 percent of Afghanistan’s estimated population of 30 million people, posing considerable challenges to the country's absorption capacity and the provision of public services and assistance by the government and partners.

    In 2016, there has been a renewed influx of returnees, due in large part to political tensions between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan that have led to increasing economic and legal pressure on Afghanistan nationals living in Pakistan. According to UNHCR and IOM As of October 22nd, more than 260,000 documented and 180,000 undocumented returnees have crossed from Pakistan to Afghanistan in 2016. Although IOM has been able to assist up to 20 percent of the undocumented returnees, many of those not receiving assistance are likely reducing essential non-food expenditures in order to cover food consumption needs, or are already experiencing food consumption gaps. The majority of the documented returnees have received assistance through UNHCR.

    Pastoralist populations

    Due to well distributed and near-average precipitation in most areas in 2016, pastoralists are generally finding sufficient pasture available for their livestock. An anticipated spike in livestock prices was observed throughout the country in September, attributable to the increased demand leading up to Eid Qurban, when many better-off households slaughter an animal. Households who were able to sell livestock during this period will use the extra income to stock food and fodder for winter. No major shocks affecting food security outcomes for pastoralist populations are currently observed or expected.

    Nutrition and food consumption

    According to the National Nutrition Surveillance System (NNSS) of the Ministry of Public Health, among children surveyed ages 0 to 24 months between April and June 2016 (beginning of the main season harvests), the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) was 21 percent (WHZ <-2 and/or the presence of edema), and that of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) was 8.4 percent (WHZ <-3 and/or the presence of edema). Although this level of acute malnutrition is considered very high according to the WHO thresholds, the data is not based on a representative survey of the country. The recent severe security constraints in many areas of the country have limited access to food, health, and nutrition services for periods of time. This has likely been a driver of an increased prevalence of acute malnutrition, particularly in Kunduz, Nangarhar, Hilmand, Badakhshan, and Ghor Provinces. The NNSS screenings suggested similar GAM prevalence in different regions of the country, as indicated in Figure 6.

    According to the Seasonal Food Security Assessment (SFSA) conducted between April and June 2016, 15 percent of households had “poor” food consumption score (FCS), and more than one in three (37 percent) had “borderline” food consumption. The highest levels of “poor” food consumption score were concentrated in five provinces: Daykundi (47 percent “poor” FCS), Badghis (43 percent), Parwan (42 percent), Badakhshan (32 percent), and Ghor (31 percent).

    Regional summaries

    The following regional summaries indicate general conditions for the corresponding areas. Within all regions of the country, there are populations that are estimated to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity, particularly among recently displaced households, undocumented returnees, and very poor households affected by a lack of labor opportunities and reduced purchasing power.

    Eastern Afghanistan – Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, and Nuristan Provinces

    The total output of the wheat harvest in May and June was below the five-year average. Despite this, and in part due to favorable vegetable and fruit production, wages remained stable and typical during the main and grain harvest and second season harvests in October. The Indian monsoon rains, which take place between June and August, were weaker than last year, which resulted in smaller areas with crop damages due to flooding as compared to a typical year. The ongoing vegetable and fruit harvests have been generally average in terms of income from market sales and produce available for consumption. With no major flooding or other types of natural disasters reported, early indications for the maize harvest, primarily in October, indicate average to above-average production. Maize is primarily grown as a second crop after wheat, and it serves both as grain for human consumption and to store as fodder and silage for livestock during the winter. The rice harvest in Mihtarlma, Qarghaee, and Alingar Districts of Laghman Province, Behsud, Kama, Mazeena, Aska Mena, and Khewa Districts of Nangarhar Province, and Watapur, Khas Kunar, and Chawkai Districts of Kunar Province has started normally this year, likely as a result of good availability of water for irrigation. As the majority of households have seasonally normal access to food and income sources, this area is currently classified in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    Southern Afghanistan – Kandahar, Zabul, Hilmand, and Uruzgan Provinces

    Wheat production during the May to June harvest was generally above the five-year average in this region. Overall production of horticultural products is reported to be slightly above average, but prices for most of these products are below average. This has led to near-average income from horticultural production. The pomegranate harvest has begun in Kandahar Province and has increased substantially as compared to recent years, with prices similar to last year.  Labor wages and demand in Kandahar Province are currently near-average, due to land preparation in October and November for poppy cultivation. Cross-border trade is functioning normally, with higher-value horticultural crops being exported to Pakistan and India. To date, 1140 MT pomegranate has been exported to Pakistan and 515 MT to India and high quality wheat flour, rice, vegetable oil, sugar, and other necessities being imported. Though there were some problem on the border with Pakistan, currently normally functioning markets and incomes are facilitating normal physical and financial access to food for most households, who are engaged in seasonally normal livelihood activities. The southern region is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    Northwestern Afghanistan – Samangan, Balkh, Jawzjan, Sari Pul, and Faryab Provinces

    Poor households who depend on rain-fed crops or farm labor for food and income have harvested less grain this year than the five-year average. Continued agricultural activities, including the start of land preparation for winter wheat and barley, are providing labor and income-earning opportunities. However, as in much of the country, labor wages are below the five-year average. Favorable pasture conditions since the spring and subsequent average livestock health and body conditions, as well as September’s Eid Qurban, have contributed to above-average livestock prices in September and near-average sheep to wheat flour terms of trade in the reference markets of Mazar i Sharif (Balkh Province) and Maimana (Faryab P­­rovince). Exceptions include conflict-displaced IDPs in Balkh (Mazar-i-Sharif, Nahri Shahi and Dihdadi), Sar-i-Pul (Kohistanat and Sayyar), Samangan (Aybak), Jawzjan (Shiberghan), Faryab (Maimana, Dawlatabad, Qaysar, Pushtun Kot and Almar), and Badghis (Ghormach) Provinces, as well as undocumented returnees and some very poor households affected primarily by the weak labor market.

    Northeastern Afghanistan – Takhar, Kunduz, Badakhshan, and Baghlan Provinces                                                             

    The May to July wheat harvest was below the five-year average, but almost the same as the previous year. Below-average labor wages and opportunities have reduced the purchasing power of poor households. Weeding began in the spring, in March and April, and agricultural labor wages have been seasonally higher since the start of weeding. Good pasture conditions, and livestock prices higher than the five-year average, have also increased incomes. The income from sale of the second harvest cash crops such as rice, potatoes, flax, and maize, as well as tree fruits, has been normal this year. However, remittances from domestic labor migration to the cities are below normal. Additionally, income from remittances from Iran is average. Furthermore, with continued displacement disrupting livelihoods, and undocumented returnees, northeastern Afghanistan is currently classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity. The major exception to these conditions are the recently displaced households, poor people and undocumented returnees, many of whom are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Central Highlands of Afghanistan – Ghor, Bamyan, and Daykundi Provinces

    The total output of the wheat harvest in May and June was below the five-year average. Despite this, and in part due to favorable potato and apple production, wages remained stable and typical during the month of September. However, remittances from domestic labor migration to the cities are below normal. Additionally, income from remittances from Iran is average. Much of this area is currently classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity.

    Central AfghanistanParwan, Panjsher, and Kapisa Provinces

    Wheat production during the May to June harvest was below the five-year average. Overall production of horticultural products is reported to be average, with near-average prices and income. This region is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    South East Afghanistan – Paktya, Paktika, and Khost Provinces

    Wheat production during the May to June harvest was generally above the five-year average in this region, and these provinces are currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    Western Afghanistan – Hirat, Farah, Badghis, and Nimroz Provinces

    Wheat production during the May to June harvest was generally above the five-year average. Overall production of horticultural products is reported to be average, but prices for most of these products are below average. As a result, income from horticultural production in this region is near average. The wesstern region is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    South Central Afghanistan – Kabul, Logar, Wardak, and Ghazni Provinces

    Wheat production during the May to June harvest was near the five-year average in Kabul, Logar, Wardak, and Ghazni Provinces. Overall production of horticultural products is reported to be near average, but prices for most of these products are below average. As a result, income from horticultural production in this region is near average. The South Central region is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.


    • Imports of wheat flour from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan will continue at a seasonally normal rate, and domestic prices are likely to follow typical seasonal trends, due to normal production and functioning of staple food markets in the region. Imports from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan will be adequate to supply markets. For more information, please see the Regional Wheat Supply and Market Outlook report.
    • Remittances sent by domestic labor migrants and civil servants will be below-average during the outlook period. However, remittances from the Persian Gulf countries and Iran are expected to remain stable.
    • According to NOAA and USGS, temperatures will be above normal during the outlook period. Therefore, it is assumed that the early winter months will neither be severely cold, nor receive excessive snow.
    • Due to the likelihood for below-average October to December rains, winter wheat planted area is likely to be lower than usual and, land preparation for winter wheat planting is expected to be below normal given the below-average precipitation and above-average temperature. As a result, demand for labor for land preparation and sowing of winter wheat, barley, and poppy from October to December will be relatively low.
    • Given that winter temperatures will not be atypically low, winter livestock deaths in January and February will not exceed their normal range.
    • Military operations and civil insecurity are expected will likely continue during the winter months of December to February to displace some households, and possibly disrupt the functioning of markets. Households already displaced will have difficulty finding new sources of food and income.
    • The World Food Program (WFP) and other local and international humanitarian partners are expected to complete winterization programs before the onset of winter, improving poor households’ food stocks during the outlook period.
    • Based on IOM, the daily average return from 01 August to 08 October stands at a combined 1,731 from Pakistan. If this trend continues, the total projection for October would be 51,931 and 155,794 for the remainder of 2016.
    • With the onset of winter, labor opportunities will seasonally decrease throughout the country. Demand for labor in construction will be reduced by nearly 50 percent from peak-season employment, and agricultural labor opportunities will decline by 80-90 percent.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Normal market functioning is expected due to normal imports of wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan, near-average aggregate grain harvests, and strong second-season production in fruits, maize, and rice, among others. This will contribute to normal market availability for households to stock grain for winter, except in conflict-affected areas where ongoing fighting is continuously affecting the supply and demand process. Furthermore, the increased livestock sales leading up to Eid Qurban in September will assist some households in accessing food through market purchases.

    Labor demand during the planting of winter crops from October through December, primarily wheat, is likely to be below average, due to the weak labor market in other sectors and resulting saturation of opportunities in the agriculture sector, as well as the likelihood of reduced area planted due to expected below-average precipitation during the first months of the wet season. These seasonal declines in labor demand will be compounded by the fact that few employment opportunities are currently available in other sectors. This is expected to result in below-average income for most poor households leading up to the winter and lean season. The normal seasonal decline in labor opportunities leads some to migrate to Iran and other countries in search of income opportunities. With the ongoing political instability and reduced employment opportunities, the number of people engaging in seasonal labor migration to neighboring and Persian Gulf countries is expected to increase above normal during the scenario period.

    Overall international remittance levels are likely to be near-average due to an increasing number of labor migrants. However, income per household with a member working abroad is likely to decline due to limited opportunities in some neighboring countries.

    The prevalence of acute malnutrition at national level is likely to deteriorate over the scenario period, as a result of the gradual depletion of household grain stocks and below-average income-earning opportunities prior to winter. Furthermore, the early months of the year constitute the seasonal peak of Acute Respiratory Illnesses (ARIs) and measles, which limit the body’s ability to utilize available nutrients. Ongoing conflict, particularly in Kunduz, Nangarhar, Hilmand, Badakhshan, and Farah Provinces, is also likely to limit access to health and nutritional services, and in some cases will limit access to food.

    The conflict in Afghanistan continues to damage and undermine local economies, leading to forced migration, increased disease burden, and acute food insecurity. Although fighting may decline temporarily during the winter in inaccessible areas, widespread conflict is likely to continue during the scenario period and beyond. As a structurally food-deficit country with high dependence on market purchases of staples among poor households, Afghanistan is vulnerable to any sudden spikes in food prices, which have been reported at the local level in and around conflict areas. Conflict and insecurity further deteriorates household food security by damaging their food stocks and inhibiting physical access to markets.

    Seasonal fluctuations in agricultural activities affect employment in most parts of the country, and weak labor opportunities during the winter are a leading factor in chronic food insecurity. This is an especially critical factor among people living in rural areas who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, as well as those who depend on casual labor opportunities in other areas.

    Since 2014, employment opportunities throughout most of the country have been below average in terms of availability and wages, leading to greater intensity of food and income deficits during the lean season amongst the poorest households. With even weaker labor opportunities this year and deteriorating labor to wheat flour terms of trade in many markets, many poor households in affected areas are likely to have limited capacity to stock sufficiently prior to winter and will face difficulty in meeting basic food and non-food needs during early 2017, as household food stocks are gradually depleted and employment opportunities are at a minimum until spring agricultural activities begin. Due to the broad geographic distribution of these labor market anomalies as well as widespread conflict, food security outcomes throughout much of the country are expected to worsen from Minimal (IPC Phase 1) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as the winter months begin. With the beginning of the peak lean season in January/February, poor households in much of the central highlands and northeast, as well as newly displaced persons and many undocumented returnees throughout the country, are likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity for the remainder of the outlook period. 


    For information on specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of this page.


    Figures Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Wheat flour prices (AFN/KG)

    Figure 2

    Wheat flour prices (AFN/KG)

    Source: WFP

    Casual labor to wheat flour terms of trade, September 2016 (KG/day of labor)

    Figure 3

    Casual labor to wheat flour terms of trade, September 2016 (KG/day of labor)

    Source: WFP

    Regional comparison of GAM prevalence

    Figure 4

    Regional comparison of GAM prevalence

    Source: MOPH, National Nutrition Surveillance System for the period of Apr-Jun, 2016

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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