Millions of Afghan people will face starvation this winter unless urgent measures are taken, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.
More than half the population, about 22.8 million, face acute food shortage, while 3.2 million children under five could suffer acute malnutrition, the WFP said.
“Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises, if not the worst,” warned David Beasley, the executive director of the WFP. ”We are on a countdown to catastrophe.”
Afghanistan fell to the Talibans in August after the US pulled out the last of its remaining troops and the militants swept across the country recapturing ground.
The takeover weakened an already fragile economy that was heavily dependent on foreign aid. Western powers suspended aid and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund also halted payments.
A nation is considered aid-dependent when 10 per cent or more of its gross domestic product comes from foreign aid; in Afghanistan’s case, about 40 per cent of GDP was international aid, according to the World Bank.
Many Afghans are now selling their possessions to buy food. The new Taliban administration has been blocked from accessing overseas assets, as nations assess how to deal with the hardline group, meaning wages to civil servants and other workers have been withheld.
The WFP warned that the looming winter threatened to further isolate Afghans dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive. And for the first time in Afghanistan, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, the organisation said.
“It is urgent that we act efficiently and effectively to speed up and scale up our delivery in Afghanistan before winter cuts off a large part of the country, with millions of people – including farmers, women, young children and the elderly – going hungry in the freezing winter,” said QU Dongyu, the director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
In September, the WFP warned that only five per cent of Afghan families had enough to eat every day. Prices of basic ingredients like cooking oil and wheat had skyrocketed in the market. In October, the organisation warned that one million children were at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition without immediate life-saving treatment.
In September, more than $1bn was pledged by the international community at a conference in Geneva to support Afghan people with about a third earmarked for the WFP. But the WFP said on Monday that the UN humanitarian assistance programme remains only a third funded. The organisation said it may require as much as $220m per month to meet the task, calling the current financial commitments a “drop in the ocean”. The food crisis in Afghanistan has been compounded by water shortages and severe drought.