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Afghans Facing a Hunger Emergency as Winter Approaches

Vendors carry trays with food outside Kabul airport, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021 in this still image taken from video.
Vendors carry trays with food outside Kabul airport, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021 in this still image taken from video.

The World Food Program is urgently appealing for $200 million to purchase and pre-position food for millions of Afghans before the winter snows cut off access roads to them.

Sizzling summer temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius mask the hardships that lie ahead for the Afghan people during the bitterly cold winter season that soon will be upon them.

Summer is the time of year when the World Food Program prepositions food stocks in warehouses and with communities across Afghanistan. The food is then distributed to needy people before access to them is cut off by the brutal winter snows.

WFP deputy regional director Anthea Webb warns of a humanitarian catastrophe this winter without international support for this emergency operation.

“With funding levels tight and needs escalating, we risk running out of our core supply—wheat flour—come October," said Webb. "We only have a few short weeks left to secure the necessary donor funding to get food in place before the mountain passes are blocked by snow. Any further delay in our preparations could be deadly for the people of Afghanistan.”
Once the snow sets in, Webb says it is too late to help communities that will be completely cut off from outside assistance.

This hunger crisis comes on top of a wider humanitarian and human rights crisis triggered by the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops and the seizure of control of the country by Taliban insurgents.

The United Nations reports some 18 million Afghans depend on international aid for survival. Getting that aid into the country during this turbulent period is becoming increasingly difficult as commercial aircraft are unable to land at Kabul airport.

Webb acknowledges the challenges this year are more complex. She says a severe drought, conflict and the impact of COVID-19 are making it more difficult to make even the most basic preparations for winter.

"We know how to prevent a hunger emergency despite the current challenges," said Webb. "Over the past tumultuous week, WFP reached 80,000 people across Afghanistan notwithstanding the difficulties. That is in addition to the more than five million people we have already helped since the beginning of the year.”

Webb notes WFP has worked in Afghanistan since 1963 including under the previous Taliban rule. She says WFP has been able to bring 600 metric tons of food and 16 new trucks into Afghanistan this week alone. She adds her agency is ready to scale up aid and ensure families have what they need to survive the harsh winter if it receives the necessary funding.