The hunger crisis is dangerously escalating in Afghanistan. Drought has struck 14 provinces putting over two million people at risk of severe hunger and malnutrition. The response of international donors has been poor despite warnings being issued by aid agencies. Only 7% of the UN drought appeal has been funded to this point.
Fields of Dust: This should be a wheat field, but nothing has been harvested from here this year. The poorest farmers don’t have any irrigation systems for their fields and rely entirely on rain – which came late and sparse in the winter of 2010/2011. In the 14 provinces of Afghanistan affected by the drought, farmers have lost an average of 80 percent of the rain-fed harvest. (WFP/Silke Buhr)
Mazuri-Bibi is in her kitchen with her two children. Her entire food stocks are here: a bag of wheat from last year’s harvest, which will last her a month (WFP/Silke Buhr)
Earlier this fall Oxfam warned that in the 14 drought-affected provinces, “Many people in these areas were already suffering from chronic hunger. Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas told relief agencies in August that they would run out of food in less than two months.”
Today a joint statement from Oxfam and other aid agencies said the drought and food shortages are taking their toll in communities, “from the closure of schools, forced migration in order to find food and work and already vulnerable families forced deeper into debt in order to get through the winter.”
Manohar Shenoy, the Afghanistan country director for Oxfam says, “Time was already running short. With snow falling in the highlands, the situation for many people has now become critical.”
Many Afghan children had already lost their school feeding ration earlier this year when low funding for the UN World Food Programme forced cutbacks.
Shenoy says, “To survive, already vulnerable people are pushing themselves and their families to the extreme: sliding even deeper into debt and selling all rather than just some of their livestock. Meanwhile the chronic child labour problems in Afghanistan are being exacerbated, as younger children are being forced to work more, for less money. In the worst cases, destitute families are forced to marry off young girls and sell teenage sons to agents who then send them to work in cities. This not only causes anguish, but reverses important gains that Afghan society has made.”
Funding for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the lead agency in fighting hunger, has been low all year. WFP depends entirely on voluntary donations from the international community.
Silke Buhr of WFP says, “What is really worrying is the fact that for 2012 alone, we will need about US$390 million of which we have so far received nothing. Given that it takes between three and six months from the moment of pledge until beneficiaries actually receive the food, we will almost certainly have pipeline breaks…in early 2012.”
Afghanistan is looking at not only a severe hunger winter but suffering through 2012 and even beyond. Two things have to happen. One is to fund current relief operations to gain control of the hunger situation facing the country. This interim aid needs to be followed by a comprehensive plan to build resiliency among Afghan communities so droughts do not take such a toll.
It’s critical to note that even before the drought took hold, Afghanistan was already facing a hunger crisis with over seven million people listed as “food insecure” and many others on the brink. Poverty and malnutrition rates were already high.
The drought has sunk an already hungry and malnourished population deeper into the pit of suffering. Of all the threats facing Afghanistan, it is hunger which has become the most powerful. Hunger, if left unchecked, will crush hopes for peace for the war-devastated country.
Farhana Faruqi Stocker, the managing director of Afghanaid, says, “The international community, the Afghan authorities and development organizations need to assess why millions of Afghans remain vulnerable to hunger and find long term and sustainable solutions to solve this problem.”