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Addressing Soaring Rates of Food Insecurity in Afghanistan

Food Insecurity in AfghanistanAcute food insecurity plagues a staggering 19.9 million people in Afghanistan, calling for urgent humanitarian assistance, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). A sovereign state in the heart of Central Asia, Afghanistan shares its borders with Iran and Pakistan. Since the departure of international forces and the subsequent coup by the Taliban, the country’s economy has been in decline. Furthermore, access to developmental aid and resources has been limited, heightening the risk of widespread famine and posing a grave threat to the nation. Fortunately, several national and international parties are addressing the urgency of the situation and working to alleviate food insecurity in Afghanistan.

The Current Reality

According to the 2023 Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis, an alarming 40% of Afghan citizens, or about 17.2 million people, were suffering from crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity (Phases 3 and 4) as of April 2023. While that figure was expected to drop to about 15.3 million people between May and October 2023, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently reported that, among those currently suffering from food insecurity in Afghanistan, an estimated 3.2 million children and 840,000 pregnant or lactating women are acutely malnourished. With undernutrition accounting for the deaths of an estimated 3 million Afghan children annually as of 2021, the current situation is dire.

Challenges and Ramifications

Natural disasters have exacerbated food insecurity in Afghanistan in recent years. For instance, in 2018 and 2019, the country suffered flash floods and droughts that had a detrimental impact on the lives and livelihoods of more than 350,000 people. These disasters damaged agricultural infrastructure and croplands, leading to a shortage of affordable, easily accessible nutritious foods.

Furthermore, heavy snow accumulation during the winter season obstructed roads, worsening food shortages and hindering resupply efforts. Coupled with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, such disasters have left swelling numbers of Afghan households and individuals unable to fulfill their nutritional requirements due to insufficient availability of food.

Additionally, UNICEF reports that mothers lack the nutritional education to understand the food needs of themselves and their children. According to UNICEF, just 50% of Afghan babies are breastfed for the recommended duration of six months and only about 12% of 6-24-month-old infants receive the requisite daily nutritional intake during this crucial development phase. Consequently, as of 2021, the mortality rate for Afghan children under the age of 5 was 56 per 1,000 live births, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Evolving Measures

However, since 2021, the Government of Afghanistan has been collaborating with the United Nations and other partners to implement initiatives that address malnutrition and famine in Afghanistan. These programs prioritize child-centered intervention, encompass strategies for mitigating severe malnutrition and aim to promote the consumption of fortified meals among families.

For example, one of the objectives of the government’s Kabul Declaration is to reduce the rate of stunting among children 5 years and younger to 10% by 2030. The approach to achieving this goal prioritizes key factors such as the promotion of nutrition, the enhancement of maternal nutrition, the improvement of feeding practices for infants and young children and the provision of essential micronutrients.

The WFP has also been providing vital food and nourishment that is helping to alleviate food insecurity in Afghanistan and save lives. In 2022 alone, the WFP’s food assistance aided 23 million Afghan people, including more than one million children and more than 500,000 expectant and lactating mothers.

Changing Lives and Providing for a Better Future

Recent sanctions and reductions in humanitarian assistance have heightened the threat of food insecurity in Afghanistan. With famine consuming the country at an alarming rate, the efforts of the Afghan government, the U.N. and the WFP have been critical for mitigating the crisis. Still, there appears to be room for more effort to address the famine and food insecurity that millions across the country face. Such additional efforts could be vital for alleviating hunger and malnutrition in Afghanistan and ensuring that its citizens have a fair chance at life.

Valentina Ornelas
Photo: Flickr