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The Cost of War: 23 Million Afghans Suffer Acute Hunger, 95% Don’t Eat Enough Food

A mother and her children fled conflict in Lashkargah and now live in a displaced persons camp in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan. Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan

MADRID, Mar 24 2022 (IPS) - Following 20 long years (2011-2021) of brutal war on Afghanistan by the US-led military coalition, which ended up in delivering the country to the Taliban in August 2021, 23 million Afghans now face severe and acute hunger, economic bankruptcy, healthcare system collapse, unbearable family indebtedness, and devastating humanitarian crisis.

People in Afghanistan are today facing a food insecurity and malnutrition crisis of “unparalleled proportions,” Ramiz Alakbarov, Deputy Special Representative for the Secretary General, reported on 15 March 2022.

“The rapid increase in those experiencing acute hunger – from 14 million in July 2021 to 23 million in March 2022 – has forced households to resort to desperate measures such as skipping meals or taking on unprecedented debt to ensure there is some food on the table at the end of the day.”

“The rapid increase in those experiencing acute hunger – from 14 million in July 2021 to 23 million in March 2022 – has forced households to resort to desperate measures such as skipping meals or taking on unprecedented debt to ensure there is some food on the table at the end of the day”

“These unacceptable trade-offs have caused untold suffering, reduced the quality, quantity, and diversity of food available, led to high levels of wasting in children, and other harmful impacts on the physical and mental wellbeing of women, men, and children,” the UN high official warned.


95% of Afghans not eating enough food

In Afghanistan, a staggering 95 per cent of the population is not eating enough food, with that percentage rising to almost 100 per cent for female-headed households. It is a figure so high that it is almost inconceivable. Yet, devastatingly, it is the harsh reality, added Ramiz Alakbarov.

Hospital wards are filled with children suffering from malnutrition: smaller than they should be, many weighing at one year what an infant of six months would weigh in a developed country, and some so weak they are unable to move.


80% of all Afghans facing debt

As Afghanistan continues to grapple with the effects of a terrible drought, the prospect of another bad harvest this year, a banking and financial crisis so severe that it has left more than 80 percent of the population facing debt, and an increase in food and fuel prices, we cannot ignore the reality facing communities. Enormous challenges lie ahead, also said the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan.


Acute malnutrition

“Acute malnutrition rates in 28 out of 34 provinces are high with more than 3.5 million children in need of nutrition treatment support.”


Healthcare system on brink of collapse

“Afghanistan’s health system is on the brink of collapse. Unless urgent action is taken, the country faces an imminent humanitarian catastrophe, warned the UN top humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, last September, that’s just one month after the US-led military coalition abandoned the country in a sudden, chaotic withdrawal.

“Allowing Afghanistan’s health care delivery system to fall apart would be disastrous,” said Griffiths, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“People across the country would be denied access to primary healthcare such as emergency caesarean sections and trauma care.”


Combined shocks

The combined shocks of drought, conflict, COVID-19 and an economic crisis in Afghanistan, have left more than half the population facing a record level of acute hunger, according to a UN assessment published at the end of last October.

An Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report co-led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), revealed by the end of last October that the lives, livelihoods and access to food for 22.8 million people will be severely impacted.

“It is urgent that we act efficiently and effectively to speed up and scale up our delivery in Afghanistan before winter cuts off a large part of the country, with millions of people – including farmers, women, young children and the elderly – going hungry in the freezing winter”, said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “It is a matter of life or death”.

The IPC report found that more than one-in-two Afghans will face Phase 3 crisis or Phase 4 emergency levels of acute food insecurity from November through the March lean season, requiring an urgent international response to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

“We cannot wait and see humanitarian disasters unfolding in front of us – it is unacceptable”, he added.


Children are dying

This is the highest number of acutely food insecure people ever recorded by the UN, during 10 years of conducting IPC analyses in Afghanistan.

And globally, the country is home to one of the largest numbers of people facing acute hunger.

“Hunger is rising and children are dying”, said the WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “We can’t feed people on promises – funding commitments must turn into hard cash, and the international community must come together to address this crisis, which is fast spinning out of control”.


Demographic spread

The report revealed a 37 per cent surge in the number of Afghans facing acute hunger since its last assessment in April.

Among those at risk are 3.2 million children under five, who are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year.

Last month, WFP and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that without immediate life-saving treatment, one million children risked dying from severe acute malnutrition.

And for the first time, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities.


Rampant Unemployment

Meanwhile, rampant unemployment and a liquidity crisis are putting all major urban centres in danger of slipping into a Phase 4 emergency level of food insecurity, including formerly middle class populations.

In rural areas, the severe impact of a second drought in four years continues to affect the livelihoods of 7.3 million people who rely on agriculture and livestock to survive.

“Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises – if not the worst – and food security has all but collapsed”, said the WFP chief.

“This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our life-saving assistance, and unless the economy can be resuscitated”.

This has been the horrifying cost of another brutal war on unarmed human beings.

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