More than half of Afghanistan’s population is facing acute hunger in one of the world’s largest food crises.
23 million Afghans will be hungry due to conflict, drought and an economic downturn that is severely affecting livelihoods and people’s access to food as a harsh winter looms, the UN has warned; an increase of nearly 35% compared with last year.
“Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises – if not the worst – and food security has all but collapsed. This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation,” the World Food Programme’s executive director David Beasley said, adding that “we are on a countdown to catastrophe”.
Foreign aid payments – 40% of the country’s gross domestic product – have ceased and almost $10bn (£7.3bn) of Afghan central bank assets have been frozen.
Urban residents, for the first time, suffer similar rates of food insecurity to rural communities; a shifting pattern of hunger in the country. In the southern city of Kandahar, the malnutrition ward at Mirwais hospital was packed with women and children, most of them sharing beds with several others. Although the hospital is the biggest health facility in southern Afghanistan, it is poorly equipped. More than 2,000 health clinics across the country have closed due to lack of funds.
In Kabul’s Indira Gandhi children’s hospital, the biggest paediatric clinic in the country, doctors said about a dozen children were arriving each day, even though the city’s markets were still stocked with food.
“We don’t have money to afford it,” said Fereshta, a 30-year-old mother.
Cash is largely unavailable, and many government employees are waiting for unpaid salaries.
Only 5% of households have enough to eat every day, the UN said.
The Taliban launched a 'wheat-for-work' scheme, saying it would employ 40,000 casual labourers in Kabul who would be paid in wheat instead of cash. During the initiative, set to last for two months, the Taliban pledged to distribute 11,600 tonnes of wheat in the capital.
Many families who fled fighting before the Taliban takeover can’t afford to go back home and remain in makeshift camps with no source of income.
About 3.5 million people remain displaced within the country.