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Causes and consequences of forced migration

Causes and consequences of forced migration

Conflict-induced displacement

For more than two decades, successive wars in Afghanistan have resulted in one of the world’s largest refugee crises. In the late 1980s, prior to the withdrawal of Soviet troops, there were more than 6 million Afghan refugees. Despite the establishment of a new government and the presence of multi-national force under NATO, conflict within parts of the country continues to generate conflict-induced displacement.

The Soviet era (1979 - 89)

By the 1960s, rural-urban migration increased with developments in new roads and national development. During the Soviet occupation, IDPs fled their villages for the relative safety of major cities such as Kabul, Ghazni, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif. The population of Kabul increased by 100 percent in less than a decade. This situation changed when in 1992 when the mujahudeen entered Kabul.

In December 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and unleashed a ‘wave of terror’ on the civilian population as the occupying army sought to consolidate power. By 1981, 1.5 million refugees had taken refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. Those who had fled quickly organised a resistance movement known as the mujahideen (holy warriors) in an effort to fight jihad’ (holy war) to rid Afghanistan of Soviet infidels (non-believers). At the height of the Cold War, Western governments capitalised on Afghans’ anti-Soviet sentiment, providing massive quantities of military equipment and financial support to the mujahideen. Likewise, Pakistan provided a territorial base from which to organise the resistance movement. Massive fighting ensued throughout the country – particularly in urban areas. By 1986, as many as 5 million Afghans were refugees in Pakistan and Iran.

The first wave of refugees predominately consisted of ethnic Pashtuns, many of whom settled in camps located in NWFP and Baluchistan owing to their shared ethnic and cultural heritage. Smaller numbers settled in urban centres such as Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi. To some extent, refugees were able to ‘carve out’ a new life – finding work as labourers, or renting land to cultivate. Western nations also gave generously to aid agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support the refugees.

In contrast to the approach taken in Pakistan with regard to Afghan refugees, Iran (which was equally opposed to the Soviet presence and motivated by Islamic fervour) sought to ‘integrate’ Afghans into society. Refugees were given permission to work in designated occupations, provided with access to free health, education and food subsidies, in much the same way as the state would assist its own citizens who were in need. The state did not provide assistance when it came to housing, so for the most part refugees tended to congregate together creating spontaneous settlements along the border between Iran and Afghanistan close to Herat (Marsden 1999).

The mujahideen era (1989-94)

After almost ten years of war that had become a liability both politically and financially, the USSR agreed in 1988 to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Upon their departure, the Soviets put in place a communist administration headed by Mohammed Najibullah, an Afghan communist. Fighting continued as the mujahideen then resisted the new government. The UN facilitated peace negotiations between Najibullah and the mujahideen in an effort to pull together a settlement which would bring an end to the fighting. In 1988 the USSR formally agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. This prompted more than 900,000 refugees to return home (Ruiz 2002).

Following its exodus from Afghanistan, the USSR collapsed signalling the end of the Cold War and a reduction in funds for those groups fighting the West’s proxy wars. Many Afghans proudly attribute the break up of the USSR as being a result of their armed struggle. For the Western donors, the huge challenge was reconstruction in Afghanistan, shifting support to repatriation programmes and providing assistance inside the country. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA) established programmes relating to Afghanistan in preparation for repatriation of Afghan refugees. Another UN agency, the United Nations Logistical and Transport Operations was formed to oversee the movement of supplies. In anticipation of refugee return, UNHCR and other UN agencies and NGOs focused their work on rehabilitation efforts inside the country. But while the West had finished waging war, local actors had not. By 1990, with Najibullah’s government still in place, fighting continued throughout the country. While some refugees were returning in small numbers, most were on the other side of the border waiting for the fall of Najibullah and the ascendancy of the mujahideen. Despite the absence of substantial numbers of returnees, rehabilitation efforts in rural and urban areas continued.

In April 1992, the mujahideen captured Kabul, Najibullah was killed, and the communist era in Afghanistan drew to a close. This led to a wave of return with as many as 900,000 refugees repatriating voluntarily in 1992 and a further 500,000 in 1993 (USCR 2001: 11,19). Throughout the repatriation, and in the reconstruction effort which followed, UNHCR played a key role. ‘Operation Salam’ aimed to create the conditions for return including mine clearance, health programmes, rehabilitation of essential infrastructure such as the water supply, and the provision of services such as health and education (USCR 2001:19). From the outset, the programme was fraught with financial, logistical, political and security problems. By 1993, the rate of return had declined. Although repatriation continued throughout the remainder of the 1990s, it was never highly significant. This is a reflection of the ever changing political and security situation in Afghanistan as well as access to assistance in Pakistan and Iran.

Cause for celebration was short lived, however, as mujahideen parties battling for power created a new era of conflict which led to further displacement. The fight for the control of Kabul, which resulted in the destruction of large portions of the city, led to the exodus of more than 100,000 Kabulis. Similarly, Kandahar and other parts of the country were carved up between commanders, making travel within and between cities risky for both civilians and humanitarian workers. Many of those who had recently returned home after as many as 13 years in exile, were once again forced to return to Pakistan (USCR 2001).

The Taliban era (1994-2001)

By 1994, the movement which came to be known as the Taliban had begun to take shape in madrassas in Pakistan. The name originated from the fact that a ‘talib’ is a student studying Islam in a religious school and Taliban is the plural of this term. Initially the Taliban gained support in the south of Afghanistan, largely on the basis that they were able to bring security to the region. This allowed refugees from just over the Pakistani border to voluntarily return to their homes, agricultural lands and orchards. As the movement grew – both in popular support and in territory - restrictive policies grounded in conservative interpretations of Islam and Pushtunwali (Pashtun tribal codes) were imposed. Despite this, rural villages in the Pashtun dominated areas did not experience significant changes in their daily life under Taliban rule as they tended to be conservative in both their interpretation of Islam, but more significantly in cultural practice. Support for the movement was also borne out of the fact that the Taliban was comprised of Pashtuns living in both the south and the eastern part of the country, who had fled to Pakistan during the communist era out of fierce dislike for the idea of foreign occupation. These groups were in the majority in refugee camps in Pakistan during the first wave of displacement. As a result, many who had spent time in exile were appreciative of the relative security in areas under Taliban control. This meant in the very least, that they were able to return home and they were familiar with their cultural and religious outlook.

The Taliban took Kandahar and Jalalabad with ease in 1994 as the tribes in these regions represented the bulk of the membership in the movement. In 1995, the Taliban took Heart before moving on Kabul in September 1996. Mazar-e-Sharif fell to the Taliban in May 1997 only to be retaken by groups of the UF in September 1997. Hazarajat was later taken by the Taliban in 1998. In both cases, UF fighters resisted the Taliban’s advances which led to considerable blood shed and human rights atrocities on both sides. Taliban military victories throughout 1996 and into 1998 continued to generate more refugees – predominantly from the North (non-Pashtuns) and urban educated elite– as they fled to escape fighting or ethnic persecution by the Pashtun dominated Taliban. Educated professionals or those who had held positions of relative power during the community regime were looked upon with suspicion by the Taliban. This was largely borne out of the fact that the majority of Taliban were from rural areas and were poorly educated. Many of these urban refugees took up residence in cities in Pakistan and did not seek assistance from UNHCR. The battle for Mazar led to an exodus of 20,000 Afghans and by 1999, a further 100,000 refugees had fled, either to escape the fighting, or in fear of ethnic persecution by the Pashtun dominated Taliban (Marsden 1999). By the end of July 1997, approximately 2.61 million refugees had returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan and 1.33 million from Iran. An estimated 1.2 million refugees remained in Pakistan and another 1.4 million in Iran. As fighting dragged on and the country was gripped by a nation-wide drought, by summer 2001 an estimated 900,000 Afghans were internally displaced and another 3.6 million were refugees, some of whom had been refugees for over 20 years (USCR 2001).

The ‘Bonn Accord’ era (2001-2005)

The ousting of the Taliban from power and the signing of the Bonn Accord led to the establishment of a new government in Kabul and once again opened the door for Afghans to return home. To this end, UNHCR facilitated the return of refugees and IDPs displaced due predominantly to conflict and drought. Despite large numbers of returnees, an estimated 3.4 million Afghans were still refugees at the end of 2002. This figure includes the 1.5 million refugees living outside the UNHCR-administered refugee camps. The bulk of the refugees remained in Pakistan and Iran.

Between 1994 and 2005, some 238,000 Afghans had sought asylum in industrialized countries outside the region. Germany alone received 50,000. The next largest recipient has been the Netherlands, which received 36,000 in the same period, followed by the UK with 34,000, Austria with 31,500, Hungary with 13,500, and Denmark with 11,500.

By 2005, Germany hosted the largest number of recognized Afghan refugees outside the region totalling 47,000. This was followed by the Netherlands with 26,000 and the UK with 24,000. Canada hosts around 15,000 Afghan refugees, mostly people that have resettled from the region.

Significantly, following the ousting of the Taliban from power, there was an 80 per cent drop in asylum applications in all industrialized countries between 2001 and 2004 with 54,000 Afghans applying in 2001 compared with 8,000 in 2004.

Of the neighboring countries, most of the returns came from Pakistan. A tripartite agreement, signed after the establishment of new government resulted in the return of more than 1.7 million refugees between the beginning of March and the end of October 2002. This is despite the fact that an agreement was not put in place until nine months after the initial flow of refugees began. Of that population, an estimated 500,000 went to Kabul. Despite the agreement, return slowed in late 2002 to a rate of 10,000 people per week from a previous rate of 100,000 per week. This was attributed to the onset of winter. At the end of 2002, an estimated 1.8 million refugees remained in Pakistan.

The voluntary repatriation of Afghans from Iran was based on a tripartite accord between Afghansitan, Iran and UNHCR signed in Geneva on 3 April, 2002. The agreement provided a framework for the expected annual repatriation of 400,000 Afghans from Iran. The voluntary repatriation programme which began in April 2001 resulted in the return of 300,000 Afghans. Of that number, 224,432 received assistance, while 71,099 returned unassisted. For those who did seek assistance, transportation to the border, small cash grants and assistance packages were offered to facilitate return.

In Tajikistan, some Afghans faced deportations in September 2002. UNHCR, however, was able to gain assurances that those Afghans which remained in the country would not be forcibly removed. As of October 2002, UNHCR had assisted more than 9,200 Afghans to return home voluntarily from Tajikistan, while approximately 3,000 refugees remained. By the end of 2002, the overall situation in the country was more positive than it had been in almost 20 years. Nonetheless, a number of issues – both in the neighbouring countries of asylum and in Afghanistan – continued to represent cause for concern in the effort to uphold the voluntary nature of the repatriation.

Firstly, Afghan refugees in Pakistan in the first part of 2002 faced harassment and deportations, particularly in urban areas. This calls into question the voluntary nature of repatriation. Despite this, it is generally accepted that most returnees did so on their own volition. While more families did return than in past repatriation efforts, accurate information as to the conditions in the country were less than optimal raising concerns over the durability of the solution over the long term.

Secondly, in parts of the country, repatriation in ‘safety and dignity’ could not be assured. Afghanistan was heavily mined, representing considerable risk to the population and particularly those who wished to return to rural areas. The lack of access to productive agricultural land due to land mines prevented some returnees from going home, instead opting to return to urban areas within the country. In addition, political and ethnic rivalries persisted between regional factions making some areas insecure for the indigenous population, as well as impeding access of protection monitors and humanitarian workers, and thus hampering repatriation efforts.

Also linked to the protection concerns of returnees was the harassment of Pashtun communities in the north and the west, where they are the minority. In some cases, this resulted in new displacement, particularly from those areas under the command of Northern Alliance commanders. The ATA tried to promote national unity and reconciliation, peaceful solution of conflicts, and the rule of law, all of which provide the basis for a durable repatriation. UNHCR, in its role to make voluntary repatriation durable, played a strong advocacy role in this regard.

Finally, the ability of the new government to take full responsibility for the assistance needs of the returning population proved an impossible task, given that it is almost completely reliant on foreign aid. UNHCR actively raised funds for reconstruction activities. However, the provision of assistance was provided predominantly in Kabul and other main cities, with few activities in rural areas. Limited assistance was due in part to the slow pace of the international community in turning pledges from the January 2002 Tokyo meeting into reality.

UNHCR – table showing changes in refugee numbers to industrialized countries
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Forced Migration Review
Hope on the brink
Afghanistan: conflict and displacement 1978 to 2001
Foreign policy considerations in dealing with Afghanistan’s refugees: when security and protection collide

Afghanistan Compact (2006-current)

By October 2006, more than 2.8 million Afghan refugees had returned from Pakistan since 2002, under a UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation programme. In the first year of the programme, returns were high with 1.7 million Afghans repatriating from Pakistan. Numbers dropped to around 340,000 in 2003, in excess of 380,000 in 2004, and about 450,000 in 2005. By comparison, the number of returns during 2006 remained low, with only 132,000 Afghans repatriating, compared with initial UN expectations of 400,000.

In May 2006, President Pervez Musharraf, asked the UN to repatriate all Afghan refugees and the Pakistani government closed 32 camps hosting over 400,000 inhabitants. This was done on the basis that the camps along the Afghan border and those around Islamabad represented a risk to national security. Upon eviction, refugees were forced to move to alternative camps or to return to Afghanistan. In October 2006, the Pakistani Government began a registration campaign and by December 2006, 1 million Afghans had been registered and provided with official identification which would enable them to remain in Pakistan for a period of three years. The closure of camps in locations such as Balochistan is of particular concern, as many of the occupants belong to provinces in the south of Afghanistan where fighting has intensified since 2006. In other cases, return is made difficult as land has been seized by local commanders or militants. Despite these concerns, the Tripartite Commission (UNHCR and the governments of Pakistan and Afghan) confirmed the closure of these camps in 2007.

In Pakistan, there are currently around 2.5 million refugees, of which over 1 million refugees are in camps assisted by UNHCR. According to a Pakistan government census in 2005, another 1.5 million Afghans live outside camps. Since January 2007, the number of returns has increased again, with more than 18,000 Afghans returning home under UNHCR’s current voluntary repatriation programme. One of the reasons for this increase is that Afghans tend to prefer to go home in the summer months, facilitating the planting of crops and the rebuilding of homes. The majority of returnees in 2007 are from Pakistan's NWFP.

The pace of return is expected to further increase as the Pakistani government has stated that any Afghans who did not register during the 15-week registration exercise in 2006 (and therefore do not have Proof of Registration (PoR) cards) will be considered illegal migrants and could face prosecution. Unregistered Afghans have been given a grace period from the 1 March to the 15 April 2007 to repatriate voluntarily with assistance from UNHCR. In total, 2.15 million Afghans have registered and 82 per cent of those registered stated that they had no intention of returning. Some 41 per cent cited insecurity as the reason for their unwillingness to return. For those who are willing to return, they are eligible for an ‘enhanced assistance package’ for transport and reintegration including a grant of 100 USD. Those who are unwilling to return but must vacant camps will receive transport to a new Pakistan government-identified camp and assistance once there. UNHCR expects 250,000 Afghans from Pakistan and Iran to return during 2007.

The Iranian government has long insisted that all Afghans should repatriate, arguing that the Taliban regime had been removed and the circumstances that forced the refugees to flee their country no longer existed. However, unlike in Pakistan, where many Afghans live in refugee camps, the majority of refugees in Iran are concentrated in urban areas around the country and only around 5 per cent live in camps. This makes it more difficult to round up Afghans and send them home. Afghans share a common language and similarity in culture, particularly in the case of non-Pashtuns or Persian speakers, and hence have more easily integrated into Iranian society. Their children go to Iranian schools and they have access to health care. There are currently around 715 000 to one million Afghan refugees registered in Iran. More than 1.6 million Afghans have returned from Iran since April 2002, but the pace reduced significantly in 2006, with only around 5,000 returning. In spring of 2007, Iran forced 44,000 Afghans back to Afghanistan, separating many families and raising concerns of a humanitarian crisis. This forced repatriation has sparked criticism from the UNHCR and the Afghan government and discussions are underway to better manage the repatriation. Furthermore, Iran is forcibly repatriating people which it has labelled as ‘illegal immigrants’ rather than refugees, which is another cause for concern. Both the government and the UN have expressed concern over their ability to address the needs of those being pushed back to Afghanistan.

US Committee for Refugee and Immigrants
Relief Web

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

In late 2002, more than 920,000 people were still internally displaced in Afghanistan, of which 560,000 were of ‘particular concern’. While many were displaced due to drought which had gripped the country since 1999, the invasion following the events in the United States on 11 September 2001 had also generated new IDPs who had fled in search of safe havens. For example, more than 60,000 people fled to the southern border town of Chaman, Pakistan. Another group of approximately 35,000 had difficultly crossing over into Pakistan and remained in unofficial camps on the Afghan side of the southern border. Many of the displaced were kutchis (see Drought ), and many others were Pashtuns from the north who fled due to ethnic tensions which flared up after the fall of the Taliban. This was the result of reprisals from ethnic Uzbek and Tajik commanders who took revenge on local Pashtuns in the north on the basis of accusations that they supported the Taliban. In response, many were displaced to southern areas where they are the ethnic majority among those in search of safety.

In 2003, Afghanistan continued to have a large IDP population although there was some reduction in the IDP population due to progress in the peace process and mitigation of drought conditions (estimated figures: 2 million in 2001, 1,2 million in 2002 and 600,000 at the beginning of 2003). The government aimed to address the issues facing IDPs, while providing necessary protection and assistance when required. Throughout, the key drivers in displacement continued to be drought, human rights violations and conflict. Those affected were primarily pastoralists (affected by drought and conflict), drought affected farmers – mainly from the south which comprised more than 70 per cent of the caseload, and Pashtuns from the north and other displaced groups.

The government committed itself to the prevention of further displacement in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, humanitarian standards and in the framework of relevant national IDP regulations. A consultative group dealing with refugees and IDPs was established to address these concerns which was chaired by the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation. The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing were also requested to play a supporting role to the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), particularly in areas of reintegration and in finding longer-term solutions for IDPs. Throughout, UNHCR provided information and operational support. Efforts focused on preventing further displacement, supporting existing IDPs, and the search for long-term solutions.

As of November 2006, the total number of IDPs in Afghanistan was estimated to be around 270,000 (according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre). Three types of IDPs have been identified: i) conflict displaced, ii) kuchi pastoralists, iii) Pashtuns from the north. Those displaced by conflict in the southern provinces (Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Uruzgan, and Farah predominantly), due to the intensification of fighting between insurgents and ISAF troops that began in September 2006. It is estimated that some 20,000 families, or 100,000 people, are displaced. A further 28,000 people returned to their homes in Kandahar province, while approximately 70,000 remain displaced in urban areas or neighboring villages where they have taken refuge with relatives. More recently, a reported 1,600 families have been displaced in Herat province due to US air raids. In addition, assets such as houses have been destroyed and thousands are in need of emergency assistance. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has described the incident as ‘possible indiscriminate use of force and possible civilian displacement’. Kuchi pastoralists were forced to abandon their livelihoods, as they lost their livestock in the drought that lasted from 1998 to 2002. They form the majority of the 132,000 people currently in IDP camps. Finally, Pashtuns from the north and west continue to be targeted following the overthrow of the Taliban government, when thousands of Pashtuns were displaced from the north and west of the country. The majority of them have returned to their home region, but some remain in IDP camps as they fear persecution for being seen as having supported the Taliban.

Afghanistan Information Management Service
UNOCHA Integrated Regional Information Network
Human Rights Watch
IDMC, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre
Forced Migration Review
A closing window? Are Afghanistan’s IDPs being forgotten
Relief Web
Afghanistan: fighting in the south sets off new wave of displacement
IDP Strategy for Afghanistan
UNHCR Map of IDP settlements and IDP population estimates (July 2006)
Map of IDP spread in Afghanistan (2003)
Brookings Institute
Afghanistan: The Taliban Resurgent and NATO

Natural disaster-induced displacement

Natural disasters are common in Afghanistan and frequently result in displacement as well as loss of life, livelihoods and assets. Between 1970 and 1998, the country experienced no less than 57 large-scale natural disasters, worsening the plight of people already made vulnerable by armed conflict.

In order to respond to recurrent events, the government has established a Department of Disaster Preparedness which is supported by the UN and donors in an effort to mitigate, and in some cases prevent, the risk to the population. Efforts were focused at national and provincial levels with the aim of building the capacity of communities, civil society and the corporate sector in the development of community-based disaster management plans, information systems and training programmes.

When disasters do occur, the reconstruction and development pillar of UNAMA actively monitors displacement from natural disasters, conducts regular assessments and prepares appeals to finance humanitarian response.


Afghanistan is located in a seismically active region. In February 1991, Pakistan and Afghanistan experienced an earthquake which left 1,000 dead and many more injured. In 1994, in the northwest of the country, an earthquake caused damage to infrastructure and affected many recent returnees from Iran and Pakistan. An earthquake in 1996 in the west of the country, led to the displacement of 500 families and caused damage to houses and mosques. In February and again in May 1998, a severe earthquake in Rustaq occurred, leaving more than 5,000 dead and the destruction of 50,000 homes. Again in February 1999, an earthquake affected 18,600 families. Some of the affected remained displaced locally, while structures were rebuilt. Others left the area altogether. Smaller earthquakes occurred in 2000 and 2001, but with little damage to infrastructure. In spring of 2002, two significant earthquakes occurred in the Hindu Kush resulting in 25 deaths and collapsed structures, leaving up to 10,000 people homeless. Most of the affected were displaced locally, due to blocked mountain passes and a rapid response by international agencies.

Accurate information on the number of displaced due to earthquakes is difficult to obtain. In most instances, displacement occurred locally owing to the remoteness of the villages affected and extreme poverty which would make it difficult for most to leave the area. Those who are able to leave tend to migrate to urban centres within the country or to neighboring countries.

Many of those affected by earthquakes in the last decade were displaced locally and received varying degrees of assistance from either the UN or NGOs. In the case of the more significant earthquakes, such as Rustaq in 1998 and Nahrin in 2002, agencies mobilised quickly with food and non-food items to respond to needs and to deter migration out of the local area. In many of the areas, high elevation and poor or non-existent roads hampered the humanitarian effort.

In April 2004, a powerful earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale jolted the remote Hindu Kush Mountains along Afghanistan's north-east border with Pakistan. The epicentre of the earthquake was in Jurm District, 50 miles south south-east of Faizabad. The populations of Jurm District and Yangaan district in Badakhshan were affected. The quake also shook the city of Kabul and was felt in other population centres in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Relief Web
Afghanistan Earthquake Information Bulletin No. 01/2004
Map of earthquake affected areas

Floods and landslides

The region has a history of floods to varying degrees. Many of these are characterised as ‘localised’ flooding due to lack of basic infrastructure such as protection dams and canals. In these cases, displacement is unlikely but livelihoods are compromised which may indirectly contribute to migration. Floods leading to displacement occurred in 1992, affecting villages in the Hindu Kush region resulting in loss of household assets and loss of life. In 1993, mudslides in Kabul destroyed houses and left 1,000 people homeless leading to displacement. In 1995, floods leading to landslides led to displacement and loss of life in the mountainous region of Badakhshan. In the northern region in 1997, floods led to the damage and destruction of houses and some livestock was lost. In spring of 2002, following three years of drought which continued to grip parts of the country until 2003, the west, north, north-east, and central highlands received high levels of precipitation in a short period of time resulting in flash floods and mudslides. While direct displacement did not occur in significant numbers as a result of the floods, more than 2,000 households in these regions were affected around the country. Some suffered crop damage, destruction of shelter and loss of household assets such as livestock. Increased vulnerability and loss of productive assets contributed to urban migration as people sought employment, although the extent of this can not be confirmed due to lack of comprehensive or reliable data.

In March 2007, severe flooding occurred in various parts of the country, including Uruzgan, Badghis, Helmand, Nimroz, Daikundi and Herat provinces. An avalanche hit the province of Ghor, where 40 families were reported to be affected. Houses and agricultural land have been destroyed, animals have died and the OCHA’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported that thousands of people have been displaced as a result.

Relief Web
Afghanistan: Aid delivery to flood victims delayed
Map of areas affected by floods and numbers affected
UNAMA - article, 26th of March 2007
WFP report on floods, Jan 2004
IFRC report, July 2004
Amu Darya River
UN News Service


In the 20th Century, a particularly long drought which was widespread and reasonably well documented occurred during the early 1970s in Ghor, lasting for three years. This drought was severe, but mainly isolated to one region. Surrounding provinces were also affected, but to a much lesser extent. Government records indicate that it was able to provide minimum assistance to affected populations which enabled them to remain in place and to recover assets over time.

Thirty years later, parts of Afghanistan - notably Herat, Farah, Balkh, Samangan and Faryab - experienced four years of severe drought. Rain-fed crops failed and water sources dried up, severely affecting 2-3 million people and moderately affecting a further 8-12 million. As a result, entire villages were forced to move to camps near Herat, Mazar and Kandahar. At the height of the drought in 2000 and 2001, an estimated 500,000 people had been displaced to camps in and around Herat. Camps in other parts of the country were also established to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected. The affects of the drought on the population varied greatly between the regions and between rural and urban areas. In rural areas in the south, south-west and the north, many families faced the risk of starvation due to failed crops and decreased purchasing power. In many cases, seed stocks were depleted as families ate whatever food remained before migrating to urban areas or IDP camps. In the south, ancient pomegranate and grape orchards withered. Loss of livestock and small ruminants were also widespread throughout the country, increasing vulnerability levels of some groups as they lost valuable household assets. In both rural and urban areas, wells dried up and streams disappeared leading to cholera outbreaks and dehydration. In the midst of a civil war, aid agencies scrambled to assist affected populations at a time when people were already struggling to survive after years of conflict. In some cases, the Taliban authorities intervened and blocked the delivery of aid in violation of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement with regard to access for humanitarian agencies during displacement.

Much of the aid that was provided was in the form of cash-for-work programmes aimed at increasing purchasing power. Food-for-work for vulnerable men and women and the provisions of seeds to encourage replanting were also effective. Little direct assistance for those who lost livestock was provided due to lack of funding and difficulties faced by aid agencies in targeting populations effectively (see Nomadic pastoralists ). For those who found their way to camps, food and non-food items were provided, as well as shelter and access to basic healthcare. In those areas where people could return, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) provided transportation assistance, and food-for-asset creation schemes (FOODAC) run by the World Food programme (WFP) assisted in the rehabilitation of water sources and the distribution of massive amounts of wheat. In urban areas, water networks were rehabilitated, and wells were deepened to try to keep pace with the dropping water table. Even now, 75 per cent of the population does not have access to safe water and the water table continues to drop. In some provinces in the south, an estimated 30-40 per cent of the population left their homes due to lack of access to water.

Despite the rains in 2003/2004, 2006 was the ninth year of drought since 1997. In 2005, around 40 per cent of the rural population were estimated to be food insecure. In July 2006, the Environment News Services (ENS) reported the drought in northern Afghanistan as being the worst in five years. The drought has mainly affected people in the north, west and central regions of Afghanistan. Many farmers from the north-western province of Badghis were on the move heading to the north-central Samangan region, more than 200 kilometres from their home. Their final destination was Kunduz, where they hoped they would get water from the nearby Amu Darya river. By October 2006, most rain-fed crops (estimated to constitute 85 per cent of the cultivated land) had failed. Many water sources have dried up. Due to the reduced availability of fodder, livestock mortality rates have increased and livestock prices have fallen. Families with dwindling assets or a lack of savings are migrating in search of work.

In January 2007, the drought was estimated to have affected nearly 2 million Afghans. Many of these were forced to leave their homes. Much of the aid provided has been in the form of food and shelter materials. In January 2007 for example, WFP began distributing 67 tons of wheat flour and pulses to the displaced and returnee population in Mazar city, while UNHCR provided essential shelter materials and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) distributed blankets and warm clothing.

Relief Web
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
IDP Network
Reuters Foundation
ACT Alert on Afghanistan

Nomadic pastoralists

An estimated 9 per cent of the population is nomadic pastoralists. Of the ethnic groups which are nomadic, 80 per cent belong to the Pashtun ethnic group, known as kutchis. Each year the kutchis migrate with large flocks of sheep and goats and camels, from the desert winter settlements to the highland summer pastures in the Hazarajat and other regions above 1,000 metres. The livelihoods of these nomadic groups have been severely affected by war (land mines and front-lines in the conflict) and drought. Throughout the drought from 1999- 2003, the aid community has had a difficult time targeting aid to assist the kutchis. Kutchis continue to be a difficult to target, both in the provision of assistance and also in terms of gauging how affected they are by on-going conflict in the south.

Development-induced displacement

Under the rule of Amir Abdurrahman Khan, at the end of the 19th Century, Pushtun settlers from the south and south-eastern parts of Afghanistan were encouraged to move north. At the same time, pasture rights were usurped from the Hazaras and granted to Pushtun nomads in the central region of Afghanistan. Regarded by some as Pashtun colonialism, these events represent attempts to centralise the dynasty’s rule over Afghanistan. (Janata, 1990)

During the period in which the country experienced some measure of political stability, specifically from the 1950s to the 1970s, a number of development projects were initiated and completed. Dam projects, mostly financed through external sources, led to some displacement. Both the Naghlu Dam, near to Jalalabad, which was financed by Russia. The German-financed Srobi Dam also led to displacement. In the latter case, a village of approximately 100 households was affected. But accurate figures on compensation are not readily available. The Kajaki Dam in Helmund was financed by the USA but direct displacement did not occur. The construction of the Dala Dam in Kandahar did lead to the destruction of a fort and displaced a village. While direct displacement is difficult to determine, it is even more difficult to assess the impact of the dam on migration patterns of the kutchis or the impact on households downstream. Based on Islamic principles with regard to property, it is likely that some compensation was provided to those households which were directly effected, but it is unlikely that much attempt was made to avoid displacement altogether.

Since 2001, Afghanistan with support from the international community has experienced a great boom in the reconstruction of its infrastructure. Across the country, an extensive road network is being constructed which will link the main regional centres of Afghanistan for the first time in its history. Likewise, in urban areas extensive construction of roads, drains, sewers and water supply networks is going on. Without reliable numbers it is impossible to estimate the extent to which such developments have resulted in displacement. Urban displacement is more likely to occur as infrastructure continues to be constructed in all of Afghanistan’s cities. Compensation or remuneration for displacement or loss of assets due to the construction of infrastructure which is intended for improvements for the public good, is not clear and no legislation governing the process has been introduced. In and around large urban centres, such as Kabul, there are growing concerns over urban sprawl where the city is fast overtaking large tracks of agricultural land and farmers have complained that much of this activity has taken place without their approval. In addition, commanders and local warlords have taken over tracks of land, either to develop them or to give to their soldiers (often leading to the displacement of families). Generally, development-induced displacement mainly occurs in larger urban centres which have experienced an economic revival with rising land prices and increased rents, forcing many to relocate to the fringes of cities where housing is more affordable.

Refugees International
The Brookings Institution
Last updated Aug 17, 2011