Afghanistan faces widespread hunger amid worsening humanitarian crisis

At Kandahar’s Mirwais Hospital, the pediatrics ward is filled with skeletal babies suffering from acute malnutrition. As many as five children are in each bed. Others are sprawled on the floor. (Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post)
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Widespread hunger, a crippled economy and a population in desperate need of assistance. Afghanistan is in the midst of a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Most international assistance was cut off after the Taliban took over in August. Hospitals and schools cannot afford to pay their staff, and many people cannot afford to buy food, adding to an already dire hunger crisis.

“It’s the sheer levels of desperation that we’re seeing in people,” said Vicki Aken, Afghanistan director of the International Rescue Committee. “The humanitarian situation seems to be going from bad to worse.”

Widespread hunger

Over 22 million people, more than half the country’s population, are facing crisis-levels of hunger, the majority of them unable to guarantee when their next meal is going to be, according to the U.N. World Food Program. This marks a dramatic increase since September, when more than 14 million people were at risk of going hungry. The organization also estimated that in December, 95 percent of the population had insufficient food consumption, adopting measures to cope with their situation by skipping a meal, for example. Since October 2020, when drought struck Afghanistan, the situation has continued to get worse.

Hunger crisis in Afghanistan has drastically worsened after the Taliban takeover

Acute food insecurity phase

Stressed

Crisis

Emergency

Oct. 2020

Below-average precipitation

reduces cultivation areas

Kabul

Herat

Kandahar

Feb. 2021

A La Niña drought

hurts food production

Kabul

June 2021

Conflict-induced displacement

drives more food insecurity

Kabul

Oct. 2021

Taliban takeover causes

increase in food prices and

intense economic crisis

Kabul

Projection

Nov. 2021 - March 2022

55% of Afghans are

expected to face high

levels of food insecurity

Kabul

No district saw minimal or famine levels of acute

food insecurity since Oct. 2020.

Sources: FEWS NET, Integrated Food Security Phase

Classification (IPC).

Hunger crisis in Afghanistan has drastically worsened after the Taliban takeover

Acute food insecurity phase

Stressed

Crisis

Emergency

Oct. 2020

Below-average precipitation

reduces cultivation areas

Kabul

Herat

Kandahar

Feb. 2021

A La Niña drought

hurts food production

Kabul

June 2021

Conflict-induced displacement

drives more food insecurity

Kabul

Oct. 2021

Taliban takeover causes

increase in food prices and

intense economic crisis

Kabul

Projection

Nov. 2021 - March 2022

55% of Afghans are

expected to face high

levels of food insecurity

Kabul

No district saw minimal or famine levels of acute food

insecurity since Oct. 2020.

Sources: FEWS NET, Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

Hunger crisis in Afghanistan has drastically worsened after the Taliban takeover

Acute food insecurity phase

Stressed

Crisis

Emergency

Oct. 2020

Feb. 2021

June 2021

Below-average precipitation

reduces cultivation areas

A La Niña drought

hurts food production

Conflict-induced displacement

drives more food insecurity

Kabul

Herat

Kandahar

Projection

Nov. 2021 - March 2022

Oct. 2021

Taliban takeover causes

increase in food prices and

intense economic crisis

55% of Afghans are

expected to face high

levels of food insecurity

No district saw minimal or famine levels of acute food insecurity since Oct. 2020.

Sources: FEWS NET, Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

Hunger crisis in Afghanistan has drastically worsened after the Taliban takeover

Acute food insecurity phase

Stressed

Crisis

Emergency

Oct. 2020

Feb. 2021

June 2021

Below-average precipitation

reduces cultivation areas

A La Niña drought

hurts food production

Conflict-induced displacement

drives more food insecurity

Kabul

Herat

Kandahar

Projection

Nov. 2021 - March 2022

Oct. 2021

Taliban takeover causes

increase in food prices and

intense economic crisis

55% of Afghans are

expected to face high

levels of food insecurity

No district saw minimal or famine levels of acute food insecurity since Oct. 2020.

Sources: FEWS NET, Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

U.N. officials said the situation is intensifying at an unprecedented rate.

“I’ve never experienced how quickly it’s deteriorated,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the Afghanistan director of WFP. “The malnutrition rates are doubling week on week. Emaciated children are coming into the hospitals.”

The country was already facing its worst drought in 30 years, leaving many in the countryside desperate. Now with the failing economy, farmers are unable to find work elsewhere.

“The economic implosion of food and fuel prices, the impact of the drought and the devastating legacy of the conflict all collide, creating a tsunami of hunger and malnutrition across the country,” McGroarty said.

A failed economy

Since the fall of Kabul in August and the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Taliban-controlled government has been choked off from the international economy, resulting in a currency crisis, extensive poverty and the collapse of key public services such as health care.

“Yes, it was terrible prior to August,” Aken said. ″But when the development funding was cut off on Aug. 15 and the sanctions were imposed and the assets frozen, that really took the situation from very bad to an extreme.”

The United Nations estimated that 97 percent of the population could plunge into poverty by the middle of this year. In September the poverty rate was at 72 percent. The economic collapse has touched nearly every part of life in the country, from the ability to purchase food to the hopes of finding employment, or keeping warm, or accessing health care.

“It is becoming a vicious circle we are witnessing right now in Afghanistan,” said Ingy Sedky, a communication manager at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan. “The lack of cash and nonpayment of salaries lead to inability to get proper food and nutrition. And now with the harsh winter conditions, it exposes many to additional health risks.”

She described nurses in maternity hospitals only having the money for one small portable heater in a big ward. They would “squeeze three babies in one incubator as they don’t have the heating system, or enough equipment to care for them,” Sedky said.

A plea for aid

The dire crisis has pushed aid organizations and the United Nations to ramp up renewed calls for funding. In mid-January, the U.N. and its partners appealed for more than $5 billion for the year, more than the organization has ever requested for a single nation. Most of the aid, $4.4 billion, would be directed to helping Afghans inside the country. The rest would go toward the millions of Afghan refugees in neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said without those funds, “there won’t be a future” for the people of Afghanistan. But in the past the organization has not been able to meet its funding needs.

The U.N.’s 2022 appeal for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan is the largest ever for a

single country

$4.4B

required

Appeal requirements for Afghanistan per year

funding requested

amount unmet

amount met

$2B

88%

met

52% met

1

2012

2014

2016

2018

2020

2022

Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination

of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

The U.N.’S 2022 appeal for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan is the largest ever for a single country

$4.4B

required

Appeal requirements for Afghanistan per year

funding requested

amount unmet

amount met

$2B

$1.1B

requested,

52% met

$868M

requested,

88% met

1

2012

2014

2016

2018

2020

2022

Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination

of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

The U.N.’s 2022 appeal for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan is the largest ever for a single country

$4.4B

required

Appeal requirements for Afghanistan per year

funding requested

amount unmet

amount met

$2B

$1.1B

requested,

52% met

$868M

requested,

88% met

1

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

The United States, which froze much of its Afghanistan funding when the Taliban came into power, has since recommitted to some of its aid, announcing $308 million in additional assistance this month, which will provide shelter, health care, food, water and other basic services.

In the meantime, the U.N., aid groups and donor countries have been working to find ways to bring money to Afghanistan without cash ending up in the hands of the Taliban. Last fall, the U.N. Development Program began to use commercial banks to send direct payments to health workers through cellphones. Those with no phones received cash in person.

As Afghanistan’s economy collapses, international community looks for innovative ways to avoid humanitarian disaster

Aid workers said it is important that countries continue to support the ailing country.

“States must invest in Afghanistan,” Sedky said. “This is the only way to prevent a total collapse of the banking system and essential services like health care and education.”

correction

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Vicki Aken. The story has been corrected.

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