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Tuesday, March 21, 2023
KABUL, Sep 21 2008 (IPS) - If 11-year old Zayainullah doesn't bring home enough money today, he says he will get beaten. "We don't have food and my aunt threatened me, saying I have to bring back enough money to buy bread," he says.
Like Zayainullah, millions across the country face acute food shortages, according to a series of recent reports. A devastating drought, an unusually harsh winter, high food prices and general war and insecurity are driving the food crisis and may spark a major humanitarian disaster, agencies say.
The British charity Oxfam announced recently that the country is facing some of the worst conditions in more than 20 years. Nearly 5 million Afghans face severe food shortages, the agency estimates. More the 42 percent of the country lives in extreme poverty – less than 10 dollars per month – according to the Afghanistan Central Statistics Bureau. According to the Brookings institution, 45 percent of the country is experiencing food poverty.
In the drought-plagued northern province of Badghis, officials say that severe hunger may kill up to 80 percent of the population. "Up to a thousand families have fled the province," in recent months, Badghis MP Muhammad Yaqoob tells IPS. "Our young people are going to Iran for work and food, but many of them are dying along the way."
In many western provinces, such as Faryab, drought is killing much of the livestock and locals are selling their animals at extremely low prices to avoid losing them for nothing.
The food shortages have fallen particularly hard on children. "My children are small and we don't have any bread. I have no wheat … I'm scared my children will starve," says a widow who goes by the name Pashtun. Oxfam estimates that nearly one million children are at serious risk. The United Nations Children's Fund says that 20 percent of children fail to reach their fifth birthday because of malnutrition.
The scale of the disaster is pushing aid agencies to demand more funding. "This is a race against time and the international community needs to respond quickly before winter when conditions deteriorate," OXFAM said in a statement.
UN agencies and the Afghan government issued a joint appeal for 404 million dollars in July and the World Food Program (WFP) says that to date it has received 25 percent of this.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has pledged to donate 50,000 tonnes of wheat, while the WFP and the Pakistani government recently inked a deal to loan 50,000 additional tonnes. Kabul and the World Bank signed a deal for an 8 million dollar grant to develop irrigation systems and address other infrastructure concerns.
Aid has traditionally been slow in coming for Afghanistan – the amount of aid delivered per capita ranks far below other war-torn societies – and nearly 40 percent of all aid spent returns to the donor in the form of profits and living expenses, according to the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief. But in addition to humanitarian concerns, without adequate aid to address the hunger crisis analysts say that desperate Afghans will be driven into the hands of the Taliban.
Ajristan, the Ghazni district where residents said they were forced to eat grass, is now a Taliban stronghold, according to locals. "The Taliban have 100 percent control here," says area resident Fazel Wali.
The WFP says it is continuing to distribute food to those families affected by fighting, such as residents in the districts near Kandahar. A major NATO offensive in the area in July caused the displacement of thousands of families, especially from the Arghandab district.
In addition to the harsh winter and extended drought, high food prices have pushed many into insecurity. Neighboring Pakistan has also contributed to the difficulties by repeatedly blocking food exports to Afghanistan.
According to Hussein Ali Mahrammi of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce, 70 percent of all wheat imports to Afghanistan come from Pakistan. While Pakistan says that it needs to curb exports to offset rising domestic prices, Mahrammi says the drop in Pakistani imports also signals political manoeuvring. "Pakistan wants to weaken the Afghan government," he says.
With the coming of winter, many roads to remote villages become unusable and many say there is a real urgency to alleviate the situation. "If we don't act fast, many children will die. I ask everyone – NGOs, the Afghan government, the international governments – to please help us," says Badghis MP Muhammad Yaqoob. "And please do it quickly, for we are desperate."
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