As drought and food shortages have struck Afghanistan, there are alarming reports of child malnutrition. A survey by the charity Oxfam Novib in two drought-affected provinces (Faryab and Saripul) showed global acute malnutrition (GAM) in nearly 14 percent of small children. The global emergency threshold number is 15 percent.
A study by the aid agency Medair showed GAM rates of 30 percent for children 6-59 months in the Badakhshan Province in northeast Afghanistan. This is a high number of children threatened with such poor nutrition that they face lasting physical and mental damage.
The charity Save the Children is taking action by helping community-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) in drought-ravaged northern Afghanistan. This includes providing the miracle peanut paste Plumpy’nut to save small children from the potentially deadly effect of malnutrition. Funding will be crucial to Save the Children so it can carry out this work.
This a file photo of a girl during class in an accelerated learning center in Balkh Province in Northern Afghanistan. The province she lives in has now been struck by massive drought which is causing severe food shortages. The UN says the Balkh Province has one of the highest rates of “severe food insecurity.” (Photo: Mats Lignell / Save the Children)
Save the Children is also starting a cash-for-work program in Faryab and Saripul to help families struggling with high food prices and unemployment. The U.S. Food for Peace program is sponsoring this initiative. It could not come at a more critical time.
The United Nations says: “The drought has added burden to an already volatile and impoverished country with considerable challenges and unacceptably high rates of malnutrition.” The UN just issued an appeal for $142 million for drought relief. Even before this disaster began to strike, the UN was low on funding for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.
The drought and resulting food shortages place even further strain on an already weakened country. The United Nations reports that “even in normal times Afghanistan has high malnutrition rates with 59% and 9% of under five (U5) children being stunted and wasted, respectively, and 72% of children 6-59 months, 48% of non-pregnant women and 18% of adult men being iron-deficient.”
This malnutrition rate among children is coupled with a lack of education. The UN states there is a “silent crisis of the 42% (5,000,000) children who are not in school due to poverty and vulnerability. More children will be affected by the drought.”
The country already has many street children who are forced to beg for food and other basics. The drought may very well increase the ranks of children forced into this kind of desperation.
What will come next, without robust intervention, will be a steady deterioration within Afghanistan. It is already under way. The charity CARE reports that in the provinces of Jawzjan and Balkh, 80 percent of farmland is unusable because of the drought. People are being forced from their homes in search of food and new jobs to support themselves.
World Vision, working in Ghor and Badghis provinces, finds that “the drought has already severely affected households in these regions where many water sources are running out, children started to get small jobs instead of going to school to improve their family income, while some households started to sell their assets to buy food.”
When food safety nets are not in place, one thing leads to another. Families get forced into desperate actions. If they sell assets to get food today, it also means fewer resources for their livelihood tomorrow. Children may drop out of school and thus sacrifice their future. This is what is happening in Afghanistan. When funding is low for aid agencies, it means there is nothing for the poor to fall back on.
The UN World Food Programme, for instance, had to severely cut back its school meals program because of low funding from the international community. So that is one less safety net in place.
The international community will need to act quickly to support aid agencies working to bring relief and long-term solution to Afghans.
The Afghan people will never be able to make progress if they are constantly fighting off one shock after another. It’s not until there is solid respite from shocks that real development can take place. This all starts in the area of food and nutrition. For without healthy children, there is no road to peace and progress in Afghanistan.