UK aid to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover

18 May 2023

  • ICAI today provides a new account of the UK’s humanitarian aid to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, updating its review published last year which assessed UK aid to Afghanistan between 2014 and 2021.
  • For two years the scale of UK aid made Afghanistan its biggest country programme.
  • Report finds that the UK has sought to overcome key challenges, such as the erosion of women’s rights.
  • However, ICAI notes that UK funding commitments have been reduced following successive reductions to the aid budget and the unprecedented scale of Official Development Assistance (ODA) utilisation for housing refugees in the UK.
  • This comes as the humanitarian crisis and security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate and funding needs are not being met.

The UK’s humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover comes under the spotlight in a new report published today, Thursday 18 May, by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI).

The information note from the aid watchdog, written in the context of the worsening humanitarian crisis and deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, provides a factual account of the UK’s humanitarian response since August 2021, including its pledge of £286 million in aid per year for 2021-22 and 2022-23.

It acknowledges that the UK has been an active and significant donor to Afghanistan – including through co-hosting a high-level pledging conference and using its presidency of the G7 to lead international discussions. However, it notes that UK funding has now fallen sharply following successive aid budget reductions and the unprecedented scale of ODA utilisation for housing refugees in the UK.

ICAI understands that the UK will provide £100 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in 2023-24, compared to £246 million provided during 2022-23. According to the report, reductions to the UK’s funding commitment for 2022-23 resulted in programmes for polio vaccinations and the clearance of landmines and improvised explosive devices being halted or delayed.

Stakeholders interviewed for the report told ICAI that a pound of UK aid spent in Afghanistan can have a much greater impact than when spent in the UK. They also voiced concern that the repeated reductions to the UK’s aid budget and failures to fulfil pledges risks the UK’s reputation with its partners, and questioned how this approach was consistent with the UK’s commitment to reinvigorate its position as a global leader in international development.

ICAI commissioner Sir Hugh Bayley, who led the report, said:

“As the humanitarian situation continues to worsen in Afghanistan, and women and girls’ hard-won rights are being lost, we felt it was important to look again at how the UK is supporting the people of Afghanistan through the aid programme.

“While the UK has played an important role in the international aid response since the Taliban takeover, our information note shows that the reduction in UK aid funding has led to programmes that directly benefitted Afghan people being stopped or postponed. It also highlights the lack of a UK diplomatic presence in Afghanistan which might undermine the effective management of the UK’s contribution to the international aid response.”

ICAI’s information note is not evaluative and is not scored, but it concludes with a set of key questions for any future investigation by ICAI or other scrutiny bodies. It builds on a report published last year by the aid watchdog, which assessed all UK development assistance to Afghanistan between 2014 and 2021 and concluded that UK aid failed to achieve its primary goal of building a viable Afghan state.

Six months on, the aid watchdog reports that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan continues to worsen and there is little prospect for improvement. The rights of women and girls are being eroded; United Nations funding appeals are not being met; there is not an agreed international approach; and there are differing views on whether the provision of international aid should be linked to Taliban reforms.

ICAI reports that the UK has been active in seeking to overcome key challenges in Afghanistan, such as the erosion of women’s rights. The aid watchdog also reports positive comments from stakeholders, who commended the UK for its funding flexibility in the face of an unpredictable operating context and praised UK contributions to a UN appeal which helped prevent famine in Afghanistan.

However, the note highlights that funding unpredictability has hampered the UK’s approach, as recent budget allocations were announced late and multi-year allocations were replaced by one-year budgeting cycles.

While the UK is still considered to be a “big player” in Afghanistan, ICAI reports that many stakeholders think the UK is not sufficiently engaged with decision makers in the country, reducing its ability to understand the operating context.

ICAI also reports that the agencies delivering humanitarian aid in Afghanistan want the UK and other donors to play a stronger role engaging with the Taliban, to ensure a credible aid response. The information note highlights the risk that the absence of a UK diplomatic presence in Afghanistan could undermine the oversight of UK aid and UK influence over the international humanitarian response.

ICAI concludes with six points that require further scrutiny as the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan continues to unfold:

  1. How should the UK and other donors maximise the impact of humanitarian assistance while minimising the benefits which accrue to the de facto authorities?
  2. How can the UK move beyond a crisis response towards other modes of development assistance that build durable local capacities and reduce dependence on humanitarian aid?
  3. What strategy should the UK and other donors adopt to preserve, as far as possible, the rights and opportunities which women and girls won before 2021?
  4. How should the UK respond to the risk that other donors may disengage from Afghanistan as a result of growing insecurity and the Taliban edicts?
  5. Should the UK consider making the case within the international community for wider engagement with the Taliban, without implying that this would lead to recognition or normalisation of relations?
  6. What are the potential advantages and disadvantages of the UK re-establishing a physical presence within Afghanistan, when security conditions allow, to exercise more effective oversight of UK aid?
Read the report

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