Aid groups fear job crisis after military drawdown in Afghanistan

A soldier with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion of The Royal Regiment of Scotland, interacts with local children while carrying out searches in Helmand, Afghanistan. The pullout of foreign troops worry NGOs working in the country. Photo by: U.K. Ministry of Defense / CC BY-NC

Much has been said about Afghanistan and the impact of the foreign troops’ pullout from the country.

At the top of NGO concerns in the country is of course insecurity, especially after dozens of aid workers have been victims of violence. The compounds of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration were attacked in 2013, and just last week Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility over an attack on the Kabul guesthouse of U.S.-based demining nonprofit Roots of Peace.

These attacks involving humanitarians have led many aid groups to think about reducing expatriate staff or pulling out of the country altogether, especially now that questions over their safety become even more real with the full drawdown of foreign troops coming to a close this year. The International Rescue Committee temporarily halted its operations in Afghanistan in August 2013 following the deadly attack in Herat province that killed five of its local staff members.

But a new IRC report — to be launched today in New York and of which Devex obtained an advance copy — raises an equally alarming issue: the livelihoods of local NGO employees.

IRC consulted 124 of the organization's 650 Afghan staff members across nine provinces on their hopes and fears relating to the transition — and 76 of them said they (and most other local personnel) are afraid of losing their jobs.

“Since the United States informed us that ‘We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014,’ some organizations have closed, and a lot of people have become jobless. Others are afraid that they will lose their jobs. A lot of people were employed with international organizations and military-related activities.They were working as translators, as engineers… Now they will be losing their jobs,” a local NGO employee was quoted in the report.

There isn’t much available data on the current unemployment rate in Afghanistan, but a 2012 ILO assessment put it at 7.1 percent.

The exodus of international forces — and potentially private contractors and aid implementers — could then exacerbate this already dire situation. It's unclear how many local aid workers would be affected, but many international organizations rely heavily on local staff. More than 99 percent of IRC staff in the country are Afghans.

But is this being taken seriously enough by the international community? Despite repeated promises, many donors have reduced their funding to Afghanistan. The United States, the largest bilateral donor to the country, has dramatically slashed its budget for Afghanistan in the past few years: from $4 billion in 2011 to just $1.1 billion now. This decline in funding — and other issues such as corruption and taxation — are leading many aid implementers to consider walking out.

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See more:

Humanitarians under attack in Afghanistan
Aid community shattered by violence (again) in Afghanistan
Out of Afghanistan? USAID partners fed up with tax 'extortion'

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.