At least 22.8 million people will be severely food insecure in Afghanistan in the coming months, a record number that paints a worrying picture and, in the opinion of UN agencies, requires “urgent” mobilization by the international community.

Afghanistan is suffering from a perfect storm of conflict, drought, an HIV/AIDS pandemic and economic crisis, which has led the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to warn that more than half of the population will reach stages three and four of the food insecurity ladder, where five is already equivalent to famine.

According to experts, these people will need external assistance between November and March to cover their most basic food needs and prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Not surprisingly, the UN has never detected such worrying figures in the ten years it has been analyzing the food situation in Afghanistan.

These needs also require unprecedented resources, as the UN-coordinated humanitarian response plan has so far received only one third of the funds requested. WFP estimates that it could need up to $220 million per month, while FAO is urgently appealing for $11.4 million and another $200 million for the next agricultural season.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu believes “urgent” action is “urgently needed” before winter paralyzes most of the country. “It is a matter of life and death. We cannot stand by and watch humanitarian disasters unfold before us,” he denounced.

In the same vein, WFP Executive Director David Beasley warned that Afghanistan “is already among the worst humanitarian crises in the world, if not the worst,” and he also fears the arrival of cold weather. Beasley pointed out that there is “a countdown to catastrophe” and called for action “now” to avoid “disaster”.

The data reflect a 37 percent increase in food insecurity in little more than half a year and the forecasts are not particularly encouraging for the coming months. Among the population at risk are 3.2 million children under the age of five and already in October the UN warned that one million children could die this year if they did not receive immediate assistance.

For the first time, the figures in rural and urban areas are comparable, among other reasons because of unemployment and the liquidity crisis affecting the cities and families that were once even part of the middle class. In rural areas, however, the evolution of the drought – the second in four years – is a cause for concern, since 7.3 million people depend on the primary sector.

The arrival of the Taliban to power in mid-August has added even more uncertainty to this equation, despite the insurgent regime’s insistence that it is working to prevent the country’s collapse. Deputy Information Minister Zabiullah Mujahid defended Sunday that the current situation stems from the previous “war.”

If there had been “a meaningful negotiation,” he assured Tolo TV, “the situation now would be better and different.” “The collapse of institutions and the flight of people from the country would have been avoided,” he argued.

He also regretted that part of the international community, led by the United States, is reluctant to recognize the current regime, with which several governments and also the UN have entered into dialogue in search of a pragmatic coexistence that would facilitate, among other issues, the entry of humanitarian aid into Afghanistan.

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