Afghanistan is on the verge of a huge humanitarian disaster. Drought has ruined food supplies, and three million Afghans will face starvation if aid agencies do not have the resources in time to respond.
The charity Oxfam says, “The situation is made all the more urgent by the fact that most of the affected areas are inaccessible during winter, and will soon be cut off from any sort of assistance. Aid is needed now to ensure that families have the support that they need to see them through winter and to the next harvest.”
The lead agency in fighting hunger in Afghanistan, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is low on funding. WFP, which relies on voluntary donations from governments and the public, is about $200 million short for this year’s Afghanistan mission. WFP will require additional funds to feed more people suffering from hunger because of the drought.
The United Nations issued a report in July warning of the coming disaster. The UN stated, “The prediction of droughts in a protracted crisis country like Afghanistan is very worrying.”
For even before the recent drought took hold, Afghanistan was a country in a severe hunger crisis, with children suffering the most. The UN report summary highlights the startling numbers which show that “68% of the Afghan population is affected by some form of food insecurity with 31% food-insecure and 37% borderline food-insecure.” This means most Afghans struggle to get basic foods. Any shock like a spike in food prices, or disaster like drought, is devastating to Afghans who have little food.
For children the situation is gravest. In Afghanistan 40% of children under five years of age are underweight with 54% stunting. Children are struggling to get nutrition when they need it most in those early years. Children suffer lasting physical and mental damage from malnutrition in the first thousand days of life. With such poor health among its children, Afghanistan’s future is virtually doomed.
There is an ongoing war against hunger and want in Afghanistan. The drought is another fierce attack on an already vulnerable population. A major humanitarian crisis will take place this fall and winter in Afghanistan without interventions now. The Oxfam press release states, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”
Food prices have also been on the rise in Afghanistan, a huge blow to the drought-impacted areas. The UN says, “These additional stressors will affect these populations in addition to the 37% of the national population who are considered to be borderline food-insecure and who are currently planned to receive supplementary food support.”
It’s important to keep in mind that with WFP facing such low funding, school feeding and food for work projects have already been reduced. There are almost 500,000 children who lost their school meal ration because of this shortage. So these safety nets are currently not available to many Afghans at a time when they need them more than ever.
What Afghanistan needs now is a prompt intervention to save people from starvation in the coming months. What they also need are more long-term investments toward building the resiliency of communities facing drought.
Afghanistan cannot build a peace while its population suffers from hunger and want. No society can. The U.S. Congress right now is debating how much to fund its Food for Peace and other global hunger fighting programs. They need look no further than Afghanistan to understand how critical food assistance is to nations in crisis.