Finland’s development cooperation in Afghanistan under the current circumstances

Afghanistan is a poor and fragile country, dependent on support from the international community. Due to the Taliban’s takeover, Finland suspended its bilateral development cooperation in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021. Finland is continuing its support to Afghans in distress through the UN, international organisations and civil society organisations (CSOs).

A doctor wearing a jacket with the symbol of the International Organisation for Migration measures the blood pressure of an Afghan women.
Finland has channeled its development cooperation funding to Afghanistan via UN and organisations. Photo: UNOCHA/Sayed Habib Bidel

Finland is continuing to support Afghans who need assistance and are living in the midst of the humanitarian crisis. Because of the changed situation, Finland’s annual development cooperation funding allocated to Afghanistan has been reduced, but it is continued to a limited extent through the UN, international organisations and CSOs. Finland is also continuing to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

The grounds for the ongoing support were defined in the temporary policy on development cooperation, which was adopted in December 2021. In line with the policy, Finland’s support to Afghanistan focuses on two matters:   

  • supporting people’s resilience and basic needs in the midst of the crisis  
  • defending and supporting human rights, especially the rights of women and girls and minorities.

Upholding the reached development results at least partly, especially with regard to women and girls and human rights in general, requires support from the international community.

Finland’s assistance is channeled past the Taliban regime, and the government system is not supported. Support can be granted to UN agencies, international organisations and civil society organisations if their working conditions in the country remain unchanged. Additionally, Finland will continue to examine the operational capacity of the CSOs and international organisations, which have been selected as partners in development cooperation, and to monitor their projects.

Finland is collaborating actively with its partners to ensure that assistance is as well coordinated as possible. Finland works closely with the UN, the Nordic and Dutch joint Nordic+ group, the EU and other donors.

Finland will continue to support its long-term partners, such as UN Women and MSI Reproductive Choices in Afghanistan. In December 2021, funding to the World Bank’s Reconstruction Trust Fund was partly allocated to the World Food Programme WFP, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF and the World Health Organization WHO.

Results of development cooperation in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been one of Finland's partner countries since 2002. As recently as in 2021, it was still the biggest recipient of Finland’s development cooperation funds with approximately EUR 30 million.

The support was used to improve children’s access to education, support the provision of basic services, promote gender equality and strengthen Afghans’ rights and opportunities for family planning.

According to Afghanistan’s development statistics, significant progress had been made by the beginning of 2020, especially in the field of basic education and healthcare: this showed in mothers’ and children’s improved health and lower maternal mortality rates.

Sexual and reproductive health services were provided in difficult circumstances at mobile clinics and via a helpline, for example.

  • MSI Reproductive Choices, which is supported by Finland, succeeded in raising awareness of and in promoting family planning. Since 2016, MSI Reproductive Choices has offered sexual and reproductive health services to more than 2.1 million Afghans and prevented over 2,000 maternal deaths.
  • The literacy rate for women and girls improved and an increasing number of girls attended school. More than 3.5 million girls attended school compared to the early 21st century, when most girls were not able to go to school at all. Investments were made in the education of female teachers: 37 per cent of teachers in basic education were women, which supported girls’ opportunities to get education.
  • Projects funded through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) improved the living conditions of people living in tens of thousands of villages. Health stations, schools and roads were constructed to meet peoples’ most important needs.
  • UNICEF WASH programme in Afghanistan increased access to clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. More than 200,000 people in 123 communities in 21 provinces gained access to clean drinking water and 526,000 beneficiaries enjoyed the results of improved sanitation.

Highlights of the Results Report 2022

The Taliban takeover in 2021 continued to have a profound impact on millions of Afghans living through a major crisis and facing serious violations of their human rights. In 2022, women and girls were denied their right to education beyond 6th grade, work, protection and freedom of movement. As many as 24.4 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, which was 6 million people more than in 2021.

Finland continued to support the Afghan people through international organisations. Finland’s main channel for supporting survival and basic needs was the new UN Special Trust Fund for Afghanistan (STFA), which consists of 17 UN organisations. In total, 2.97 million people (53% women) benefited from access to basic services through the STFA. This included mainly the provision of health services and the rehabilitation/construction of critical infrastructure for essential services. In addition, a total of 281,000 people (19% women) received livelihood support to meet their basic needs. Finland also continued to support sexual and reproductive health services through MSI Reproductive Choices, reaching 367,000 women and girls in six provinces. Furthermore, Finland supported the survival of people in Afghanistan through humanitarian aid provided by the World Food Programme.

In the area of human rights, results were modest mainly due to the extremely challenging operating environment. With Finland’s support, UN Women helped the voice of Afghan women influence international decision-making, guaranteed the survival of some women-led civil society organisations and ensured better gender mainstreaming in the humanitarian response. It also provided services to victims of violence and supported women’s economic empowerment.