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Young boy warming has hands in the cold.

Islamic Relief delivers emergency aid in Afghanistan as families freeze

Humanitarian response limited by ban on female staff

Islamic Relief is delivering emergency aid and healthcare as Afghanistan suffers its coldest winter in a decade and the poorest families face freezing to death.

More than 150 people have reportedly died, as well as tens of thousands of cattle, with temperatures plummeting as low as minus -33C (minus -27F) in some mountainous areas. There are growing fears that Afghanistan will fall into famine this year, with 28 million people now in need of aid and facing critical food shortages.

However, the humanitarian response to the crisis continues to be undermined by the ban on most female staff working for national and international NGOs. Islamic Relief continues to call on the Afghan authorities to urgently reverse the ban and ensure that women can work safely.

Following the announcement of the ban in late-December, Islamic Relief took the difficult decision to pause many of our activities. Our work depends on female staff and it is not possible to carry out all of our activities and reach the most vulnerable people without them.

Since then, the Ministry of Health has assured NGOs that women will be allowed to keep working on health projects. As a result, we have been able to resume health activities such as operating static clinics and mobile clinics that provide nursing and midwifery services in the most remote areas.

Given the extremely cold winter and heavy snowfall, we are also distributing aid such as food, blankets and warm clothes to vulnerable families who cannot afford to eat or heat their homes. We have also received indication that women can continue to work in some of our community-based education projects for young girls.

However, other important Islamic Relief projects remain paused while the overall ban remains in place, such as supporting long-term livelihoods for women and men, helping farmers and small businesses, and improving water, sanitation and hygiene services. Such aid is critical for addressing the crisis in Afghanistan.

Affan Cheema, Islamic Relief’s Director of International Programmes, says:

The humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are enormous and right now people are freezing cold and hungry. Over the past 18 months Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed and now the country is on the verge of famine. People urgently need support.

“It is vital that female staff are permitted to work. For some activities, such as health, we have received positive assurances on female participation, but other activities remain paused. If the ban on female staff remains in place it will have a huge impact on men, women and children across the country. It is simply not possible to carry out an effective response at the scale needed if women are prevented from working.

“Islamic Relief is completely committed to the people of Afghanistan and helping them to build a better future. We hope the ban will be overturned so that we can fully resume all of our operations.”


Islamic Relief has so far distributed emergency winter aid to more than 5,500 households, reaching approximately 38,000 people.

In 2022 Islamic Relief supported more than 1 million Afghans in 13 provinces, with life-saving humanitarian aid and projects that support sustainable livelihoods, provide essential basic healthcare and nutrition services, and improve access to education for girls and boys.

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