A top U.N. official in Afghanistan said Monday that millions of Afghans are on the brink of starvation as winter approaches and humanitarian funding is running low.
"The situation can be best described as pure catastrophe," U.N. deputy special representative and humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told reporters via video from Kabul.
He said 19 million people are food insecure in the country and 6.6 million of them are at emergency levels, just a step away from famine. The problem is growing, with 35 million of Afghanistan's 40 million residents living in poverty, while the price of a basic food basket is up nearly 30%.
Alakbarov said the deterioration of the situation is a reflection of the country's overall economic decline.
Over the past two decades, the economy has been heavily dependent on foreign aid. Some 75% of the former government's budget was donor-funded, as was 40% of its GDP.
Since the Taliban seized power exactly one year ago, the suspension of most international aid has contributed to the breakdown in many basic services, including electricity, health services and education. Inflation is rampant, and the price of ordinary goods is beyond the reach of most Afghans.
On top of the political crisis, there has been an earthquake and severe floods since the Taliban came to power. Afghanistan is also reeling from the effects of two severe droughts, in 2021 and 2018.
Farmers are facing severe fertilizer and pesticide shortages and disease outbreaks among their livestock.
"The people of Afghanistan are known for their resilience and their ability to survive," Alakbarov told reporters. "Unfortunately, negative coping strategies for Afghanistan are already quite serious. You've seen people selling organs. You've seen people selling children. This has been widely covered in the media. This is what we will be seeing again if support is not provided."
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has repeatedly urged the release of frozen currency reserves and reengaging with the country's central bank, as well as foreign cash injections for the ailing economy.
Despite concerns about aid money falling into Taliban hands, donors have been generous. The U.N. requested a staggering $4.4 billion for the humanitarian response this year and has received about $1.8 billion so far. But the $2.6 billion shortfall could translate into lost lives, especially during the harsh winter months.
Alakbarov emphasized that the U.N. needs more resources to scale up its response. The organization has reached nearly 23 million people, with at least one form of assistance in the past year.
Despite concerns, there have been no reports of aid diversion and the U.N. maintains a stringent monitoring system.
"It's a high-risk environment, but we are taking every mitigation measure possible. And it's being taken very, very seriously," Alakbarov said.