Record levels of hunger persist in Afghanistan

KABUL (Pajhwok): Record levels of hunger continue to haunt Afghanistan as a lingering drought and deep economic crisis continue to threaten lives and livelihoods in the country.

A new UN-backed report says around 19.7 million people, almost half of Afghanistan’s population, are facing acute hunger.

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis was conducted in January and February by Food Security and Agriculture Cluster partners.

The cluster includes the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and several NGOs.

A pocket of catastrophic levels of food insecurity in the country’s northeast was affecting thousands of people, the analysis said.

Although humanitarian assistance helped avert a food security catastrophe over the harsh winter in Afghanistan, hunger still persists at unprecedented levels, the report added.

Richard Trenchard, FAO representative in Afghanistan, characterised the food security situation as dire.

He stressed: “Humanitarian assistance remains desperately important, as do the needs to rebuild shattered agricultural livelihoods and reconnect farmers and rural communities to struggling rural and urban markets across the country. Unless these happen, there will be no way out of this crisis.”

The report said there would be a slight improvement in food security in Afghanistan from June through November, with the number of people facing acute food insecurity dropping to 18.9 million.

“Food assistance and emergency livelihood support are the lifeline for the people of Afghanistan. We mounted the world’s largest humanitarian food operation in a matter of months, reaching more than 16 million people since August 2021,” remarked Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP’s country director in Afghanistan.

More than 20,000 people in Ghor province are facing catastrophic levels of hunger resulting from a long period of harsh winter and disastrous agricultural conditions, according to the report.

It said although the upcoming wheat harvest would bring some relief for millions, that relief would only be short-term for many.

Fallout from the war in Ukraine continues to mount pressure on Afghanistan’s wheat supply, food commodities, agricultural inputs and fuel prices.

Access to seeds, fertilisers and water for irrigation is limited, labour opportunities are scarce and people have incurred enormous debts to buy food over the past few months.

McGroarty of WFP said: “We are working with farmers, millers and bakeries, training women and creating jobs to support the local economy.

She noted: “Because the people of Afghanistan would much prefer jobs; women want to be able to work; and all girls deserve to go to school.”

“Allowing the economy to function normally is the surest way out of the crisis, otherwise suffering will grow where crops cannot,” she remarked.

Meanwhile, FAO continues to ramp up assistance to farmers and herders in rural areas of Afghanistan.

The UN agency will assist more than nine million people this year through a range of interventions that include support for crop, livestock and vegetable production; cash transfers and the rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure and systems.

PAN Monitor/mud

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