Economic collapse, rising food prices and drought have forced some 20 million Afghans to go hungry, Save the Children says.
Around 9.6 million children in Afghanistan have been going hungry daily amid the country’s economic collapse, worsening impact of the Ukraine conflict on staple foods and ongoing drought, according to a recent report published by NGO, Save the Children.
The war-torn country is experiencing the worst hunger crisis in its history, and the NGO has called for “immediate food assistance” to save lives in the short term.
“The international community must address both the gap in funds and Afghanistan’s economic collapse by identifying ways to increase liquidity in the country’s economy. Until the economic crisis is addressed, and rising poverty stemmed, children will continue to face catastrophic levels of hunger. Aid alone cannot save their lives,” said Athena Rayburn, Save the Children's Director of Advocacy, Communications and Media.
26-year-old Maryam has five children and lives in Faryab Province in Afghanistan, where many families subsist on only one meal a day. Her husband is in Iran trying to find work so he can send money back to his family.
“I am worried about my children,” Maryam told Save the Children.
“I can only borrow cash and buy them food but mostly I don’t have sufficient food for them. Sometimes we have food to eat and some days we don’t.”
However, the report underlined that aid alone is not enough to tackle the crisis. Despite the significant amount of food aid distributed to Afghan families in recent months, 19.7 million children and adults, nearly half of the population, need urgent support to survive.
According to Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), about 6.6 million people are classified in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), characterised by large food gaps and/ or employing emergency coping strategies to access food, while 20,000 people are considered to be in Catastrophe (Phase 5) in this regard.
After the Taliban took over the control of the country last August, the US froze nearly $10 billion of Afghan assets and suspended development assistance to the Taliban administration, a move that deepened the country’s macroeconomic instability and sent its economy into a downwards spiral.
Typically having a deficit in cereal production against consumption requirements and relying on imports to meet its food demands, Afghanistan has also suffered the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the world’s two chief cereal exporters.
The ongoing conflict has raised global food prices, which placed pressure on countries in the region supplying wheat to Afghanistan to place export bans on food, giving priority to their respective domestic consumption.
The combination of rising food prices and reduced purchasing power of Afghans has led to acute food insecurity across the country.
This year, “the terms of trade of casual labor against wheat prices have fallen by 35 percent compared with June 2021,” the IPC report said.
Drought is another reason for the ongoing crisis, as Afghans rely heavily on agricultural production.
Wheat cultivation has reduced between seven to 13 percent compared to the long-term average, due to below-average cumulative precipitation during the wet season and high agriculture input costs such as seed and fertilisers.
Amid these dire circumstances, Afghan parents are forced to take desperate measures to feed their families.
For example, some families have sold their children and their kidneys to meet basic food needs.
A local resident, 38-year-old Abdulkadir, said he only drank tea and ate dry bread. He said he has no money to go to the hospital.
"I went to the hospital to sell one of my kidneys for 150,000 Afghanis (around $1,457). The doctors told me that if I had surgery and had my kidney removed, I would die. However, I want to sell my kidney. Our economic situation is so bad that I am ready to sell one of my children for 150,000 Afghanis. So I want to save other members of my family," Abdulkadir said.