While humanitarian assistance averted a food security catastrophe in the harsh winter months, hunger persists at unprecedented levels in Afghanistan. People require humanitarian assistance, livelihood support, jobs, and long-term investments. More than 20,000 people in the north-eastern province of Ghor are facing catastrophic levels of hunger because of a long period of harsh winter and disastrous agricultural conditions.
Some 19.7 million people, almost half of Afghanistan’s population, are facing acute hunger according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis conducted in January and February 2022 by Food Security and Agriculture Cluster partners, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and many NGOs.
The report predicts that the outlook for June-November 2022 sees a slight improvement in the food security situation, with a reduction in the number of people facing acute food insecurity to 18.9 million people. This is due in part to the coming wheat harvest from May to August, and this year’s well-coordinated scale-up of humanitarian food assistance – alongside increased agricultural livelihood support.
However, gains will be limited – the report warns. Lingering drought and the deep economic crisis mean that unprecedented hunger will continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across Afghanistan.
Sufferings grow where crops cannot
Of particular concern – and for the first time since 2011 – a small pocket of “catastrophic” levels of food insecurity has been detected in the country. More than 20,000 people in the north-eastern province of Ghor are facing catastrophic levels of hunger because of a long period of harsh winter and disastrous agricultural conditions.
“Unprecedented levels of humanitarian assistance focused on bolstering food security have made a difference. But the food security situation is dire. Humanitarian assistance remains desperately important, as do the needs to rebuild shattered agricultural livelihoods and re-connect farmers and rural communities to struggling rural and urban markets across the country. Unless these happen, there will be no way out of this crisis,” said Richard Trenchard, FAO Representative in Afghanistan.
“Food assistance and emergency livelihood support are the lifeline for the people of Afghanistan. We mounted the world’s largest humanitarian food operation in a matter of months, reaching more than 16 million people since August 2021,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP’s Country Director and Representative in Afghanistan.
“We are working with farmers, millers, and bakeries, training women and creating jobs to support the local economy. Because the people of Afghanistan would much prefer jobs; women want to be able to work; and all girls deserve to go to school. Allowing the economy to function normally is the surest way out of the crisis, otherwise suffering will grow where crops cannot,” she added.
Cost-effective, strategic intervention
The upcoming harvest will bring some relief to millions of families struggling with income losses and food shortages. However, for many, the harvest will only offer short-term relief and very little opportunity for recovery. The war in Ukraine continues to put pressure on Afghanistan’s wheat supply, food commodities, agricultural inputs, and fuel prices. Access to seeds, fertilizer and water for irrigation is limited, labour opportunities are scarce and enormous debts have been incurred to buy food over the last few months.
Both FAO and WFP continue to scale up their programmes across the country. WFP has reached more than 16 million people so far in 2022 with emergency food assistance, and is supporting local markets, working with retailers and local suppliers. WFP continues to invest in people’s livelihoods through skills training and climate adaption projects so that families can cultivate their land and grow their own food.
FAO continues to scale up its assistance to farmers and herders in rural areas and will assist more than 9 million people in 2022 through a range of interventions supporting crop, livestock and vegetable production, cash transfers and the rehabilitation of vital irrigation infrastructure and systems.
Supporting agriculture is a cost-effective and strategic intervention that delivers great short-term impact as lifesaving support, while it paves the way for longer-term recovery and sustainable development.