Media CenterAfghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, CRS warns

Photo by Stefanie Glinski for CRS

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Megan Gilbert
Catholic Relief Services
[email protected]
(410) 271-8732

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, Nov. 22, 2021 – A severe, chronic drought has put nearly 23 million Afghans at risk of severe hunger, especially with winter approaching. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is responding to families’ needs, but more must be done to avoid a humanitarian disaster.

Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS, just returned from Afghanistan and saw first-hand what people are facing. CRS is the only international humanitarian organization in Adraskan, which is one of the hardest hit areas.

“Rivers are dried up and conditions are bone dry,” Callahan said. “I talked to farmers who told me they have no crops. They try to get day labor to support their families but it’s not enough.”

CRS is providing emergency cash assistance to thousands of farmers in some of the most drought-affected villages, with private donations as well as funding from the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs, and we are actively seeking to expand the assistance.  These distributions will be followed by water conservation projects and livestock management trainings over the winter. 

“With our continued presence and commitment to the people of Afghanistan, we are in a unique position to provide the support that families really need right now,” Callahan said.

While there are localized instances of violence, the overall security environment is stable. Humanitarian groups are now able to access areas that were once too insecure to reach. However, the financial system in Afghanistan has ground to a halt. There is an urgent need for money to get into the country quickly, so the public sector can receive salaries.

“It would be morally unacceptable to let tens of millions of people suffer or die because of the response to the U.S. pullout,” Callahan said. “Organizations like ours will do everything we can to support the 23 million vulnerable people in Afghanistan to make it through the harsh winter, but we cannot replace the government and a functioning economy.”

Just weeks after the Taliban take-over, CRS began reopening offices across the country, as we received assurances from the authorities about the full participation of our female staff. CRS has hundreds of community-based schools in rural parts of Afghanistan as well as schools in camps for displaced people. Those schools are all open, with girls and boys attending classes.

Still, Callahan says the current environment is not sustainable. If the international community does not act now, the region could destabilize.

“Our staff are worried about what the future holds,” Callahan said. “If the international community doesn’t both ensure a functioning government and economy and scale its programs and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, we risk greatly increased suffering, massive displacement and migration, and instability.  A failed state or a return to war are not in the interest of the people of Afghanistan, the region, or the United States.”


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, visit or and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media in English at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; and in Spanish at: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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