Hunger rife as 90 per cent of Afghan families lack food, aid agencies warn

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Humanitarian groups said the country’s outlook is bleak, and the situation will deteriorate without urgent international assistance

Hunger rife as 90 per cent of Afghan families lack food, aid agencies warn
Rates of malnutrition among children are soaring across Afghanistan
Rates of malnutrition among children are soaring across Afghanistan CREDIT: Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Humanitarian groups warn that at least 90 per cent of Afghan households do not have enough food to eat as the situation across the country continues to deteriorate.

Afghan officials warned this week that dozens of children have died from malnutrition in the northern province of Kunduz since the beginning of the year. This figure is likely to be an undercount due to a lack of data collection on the ground.

Aid agencies told The Telegraph that the outlook is bleak, as the economy is “barely hanging by a thread”, the number of hungry people nationwide has increased sixfold and the health system is collapsing. It’s a situation likely to deteriorate without urgent intervention

“It is a totally desperate situation in Afghanistan,” said Vicki Aken, country director for Afghanistan at the International Rescue Committee (IRC). “Families are hungry right across the board. I would say it is well over 90 per cent of the households that don’t get enough to eat on a regular basis right now.

“Families that used to be able to support themselves are now having to sell off their sons and daughters. People are also heading to Iran in large numbers,” she added. 

The Taliban takeover, compounded by the worst drought in 30 years and the coronavirus pandemic, has left many Afghans jobless. The per capita income for Afghans is predicted to fall to $350 (£260) this year, down from $500 (£370) in 2020.

Meanwhile, inflation has soared to the highest levels in Asia. The price of essential foods, including flour and cooking oil, jumped more than 60 per cent in August and has continued to rise.

Health institutions, especially Covid-19 hospitals, are attempting to provide services in the absence of heating, fuel, electricity, food, vaccination, medicine, and medical equipment, according to the UN
Health institutions, especially Covid-19 hospitals, are attempting to provide services in the absence of heating, fuel, electricity, food, vaccination, medicine, and medical equipment, according to the UN CREDIT: Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency

People on the ground in Kabul say there is no shortage of food in Afghanistan. Instead, citizens can’t afford to purchase what is available, with even urban, middle class families struggling to live on several small loaves of bread a day.

The United Nations Development Programme has warned 97 per cent of Afghans could plunge into poverty by mid-2022, causing deaths from malnutrition to spike further. Meanwhile Unicef has estimated that up to one million Afghan children could die from severe acute malnutrition this year if “urgent actions” are not taken by the international community to alleviate the country’s economic collapse. 

“The numbers of hungry people have increased sixfold in Afghanistan since last year. But, what is most critical is that people are jobless and have no access to cash, they can’t draw money from their accounts to buy food,” said Shelley Thakral, spokesperson for the World Food Programme in Afghanistan.

“The international community needs to revive the dying economy which is barely hanging by a thread. We need public sector salaries to be paid and small businesses need to be saved. You can drive around and see shops open here but unfortunately, people don’t have the money to buy anything,” she added. 

The current economic crisis has been exacerbated by a withdrawal of international financial support for the Afghan regime.

Before the Taliban returned to power, Afghanistan received around £6.4 billion annually in aid that shored up its government, equating to around two-fifths of its GDP. Three-quarters of the government’s budget was also paid for by foreign donors. 

But this funding was suspended as western countries refused to recognise the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan and more than £5 billion of assets belonging to the Afghan central bank was frozen by the United States.

The lack of liquidity has had a devastating impact on Afghanistan’s public healthcare system. Up to 90 per cent of clinics and hospitals – previously largely dependent on funding from the World Bank – are expected to close over the next few months.

‘They are watching their children dying’

In Jawzjan province, community leaders said they were aware of several children dying every day in their districts from malnutrition. Many families could not afford to take their sick children to clinics or pay for medical care. 

“They are watching their children die on their return from hospital because they couldn’t afford the $5 (£3.70) for treatment, it’s absolutely horrifying,” said Charlotte Rose, a spokeswoman for Save the Children who returned from Afghanistan last week.

“The sad thing is that children will almost always recover if they receive treatment for malnutrition but there aren’t enough services to deal with the sheer numbers.”

Already, there have been dozens of fatalities amongst children in the northern Kunduz province this year, although this is believed to be an underestimate due to a lack of reporting.

The country is also undergoing a measles outbreak, with 35,000 cases over the last 12 months. Around 150 children have died, the majority of whom were under the age of five. 

Deaths from both Covid-19 and pneumonia are expected to increase, as children’s immune systems are further compromised by hunger, unless emergency funding is allocated for the Afghan public health system. Malaria and dengue fever outbreaks are also predicted for later this year. 

“There is also a growing issue with availability of medicines. Importation of medicines to maintain stocks has become a major problem and of those available, a lot are either found on the black market and so are unaffordable for most Afghans, or ineffective,” said Ms Aken.

People receive food rations in Kandahar
People receive food rations in Kandahar CREDIT: STRINGER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Humanitarians also expect to see a growing exodus of Afghans from the country as those with financial means pay smugglers to cross land borders into the country’s neighbours, including Iran and Pakistan.

The journey is extremely dangerous. Officials from Afghanistan’s southwestern Nimroz province say nearly 100 Afghan refugees have been shot by Iranian security forces trying to flee into Iran over the last six months. 

“But, people are just being pushed really hard into a corner. There is a choice for many between starvation and migration. One colleague of mine recently got married and commented, how can I bring a child into this country?” said Ms Thakral. 

“Many people don’t want to leave but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to think of a future in Afghanistan.”

In an attempt to help tackle the deteriorating situation, the UK announced this week that it will co-host an upcoming UN pledging conference which aims to raise over £4 billion. The money would be used to support 24.4 million Afghans needing urgent humanitarian assistance. 

“The government’s decision to step up and co-host the high-level funding summit for Afghanistan is hugely welcome,”  said Laura Kyrke-Smith, the IRC’s UK Executive Director. “The UK has the power and ability to prevent catastrophe in Afghanistan and the government is to be commended for choosing to do so.” 

But she added that further commitments are needed from organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, while Afghan assets frozen abroad should be made available. 

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