Millions of Afghans face starvation without aid
By Nolan Barton // Aug 25, 2021

The World Food Program's (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley, on Tuesday, Aug. 24, called on political leaders to act fast as millions of Afghans could face starvation as early as September due to a combination of conflict, drought and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


"The people of Afghanistan need aid now. The politics needs to be worked out as soon as possible," Beasley told Reuters. "There's a perfect storm coming because of several years of drought, conflict, economic deterioration, compounded by COVID. The number of people marching towards starvation has spiked to now 14 million."

Beasley said the Taliban had provided assurances to the WFP to allow its aid to continue to reach people unimpeded. "They have thus far been cooperative. They have allowed us independence, neutrality and impartiality," he said, adding that the Taliban were not taxing vehicles carrying aid supplies.

$200M needed to help feed 20 million Afghans

The WFP warned of a human catastrophe looming in Afghanistan if the agency cannot raise $200 million by September.

Beasley said he was very worried about whether the agency could raise the amount needed to buy food for up to 20 million people. The WFP is hoping that Qatar, other Gulf Arab states and the United States would contribute. According to Beasley, the WFP would start to run out of food for Afghanistan next month and that 4 million lives would be at risk if food aid could not be pre-positioned for them before winter.

Reports emerged that first aid supplies, including surgical equipment and severe malnutrition kits, were stuck due to restrictions at Kabul airport. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday, Aug. 23, that the closure of the airport to commercial flights has held up key deliveries.

The WFP said it was getting food through four different supply routes for the moment but could start running out of food by next month.

Andrew Patterson, the WFP's deputy country director in Afghanistan, said they were transporting food through humanitarian crossings, including from Uzbekistan, though which 50 percent of supplies arrived, as well as via Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

"We are going into the lean season and many Afghan roads will be covered in snow. We need to get the food into our warehouses where it needs to be distributed," said Patterson.

"We've got 20,000 metric tons of food in the country now, we've got 7,000 metric tons on the way. We need another 54,000 metric tons of food to get the Afghan people through to the end of December. We could start running out of food by September."

Nearly 18.5 million Afghans already rely on aid, and the current drought is expected to worsen the situation. About 40 percent of Afghanistan's crops were lost to drought this year, according to the WFP. The socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has left essential food out of reach for many families. Wheat prices are 24 percent above the five-year average.

Taliban takeover exacerbates problems

The WFP is also working through the challenges brought about by the rapid Taliban takeover. (Related: Diplomats warned Biden administration of imminent Kabul collapse, says classified document.)

Aid agencies say it is critical that medical and food supplies reach about 300,000 people displaced in Afghanistan over the past two months amid advances by the Taliban that culminated in the capture of Kabul on Aug. 15.

"While the eyes of the world now are on the people being evacuated and the planes leaving, we need to get supplies in to help those who are left behind," Dr. Richard Brennan, the WHO emergency director in the region, said in an emailed statement.

He said the WHO was calling for empty planes to divert to its warehouse in Dubai to collect supplies on their way to pick up evacuees from the country. The WHO is also looking at setting up a "humanitarian air bridge," Brennan said.

Gregory Matthews of the International Red Cross said that the people of Afghanistan faced a triple threat. "There is the uncertainty in the political situation, there are 550,000 people displaced and also people are at crisis levels of food insecurity. The government had already declared a crisis in July, after a major drought. Levels of food insecurity are exceptionally high," said Matthews.

10 Million Afghan children need humanitarian assistance

Henrietta Fore, executive director of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), said on Monday that about 10 million children across Afghanistan need humanitarian assistance and that 1 million could die without treatment.

"Right now, UNICEF is scaling up its lifesaving programs for children and women – including through the delivery of health, nutrition and water services to displaced families. We hope to expand these operations to areas that could not previously be reached because of insecurity," Fore said.

Fore urged the Taliban and other parties involved in the conflict to ensure that UNICEF and our humanitarian partners have safe, timely and unfettered access to reach children in need wherever they are.

"All humanitarian actors must have the space to operate according to the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence," she said. "Our commitment to Afghanistan’s children is unequivocal and our aim is to see that the rights of each and every one of them are realized and protected."

At the beginning of 2021, one in three Afghans was facing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity while half of all children under five were malnourished. The country was in great humanitarian need following the second drought in three years even before the Taliban seized control.

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