United Nations agencies warned Monday humanitarian needs in Afghanistan have grown to unprecedented levels and more than half of the conflict-torn country’s population, a record 22.8 million people, will "face acute food insecurity" from November.
The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program said in joint study the combined impacts of drought, conflict, and economic decline have severely affected lives, livelihoods, and Afghans’ access to food.
"Among those at risk are 3.2 million children under-five who are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year," the study said.
The latest U.N. findings come as the looming harsh winter threatens to cut off areas of Afghanistan where families desperately depend on humanitarian assistance to survive the freezing winter months.
"Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises - if not the worst - and food security has all but collapsed,” lamented David Beasley, WFP executive director.
"This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our life-saving assistance, and unless the economy can be resuscitated," Beasley said. "We are on a countdown to catastrophe and if we don’t act now, we will have a total disaster on our hands."
The Islamist Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August after overthrowing the Western-backed government, promising their interim government would restore stability.
But the hardline movement’s return to power has triggered financial sanctions on Kabul by the United States and other Western nations, blocking the Taliban’s access to around $10 billion dollars in Afghan assets parked largely with the U.S. Federal Reserve.
The sanctions have raised prospects of an economic meltdown that critics say will worsen the humanitarian crisis facing millions of people.
Washington and European countries have declined to directly engaged with the Taliban or give their interim government legitimacy, but they have vowed to make arrangements to sustain delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid to Afghans.
Neighboring countries, including China, Pakistan and Iran, have already dispatched relief assistance and promised to send more on a regular basis to help the Taliban government tackle the food crisis.
Thousands of poor families in western Afghanistan have reportedly already sold their flocks and fled in search of shelter and assistance in make-shift camps near major cities.
The U.N. says it will need to mobilize resources at unprecedented levels to meet the scale of needs, lamenting its humanitarian response plan remains only a third funded. Aid agencies warn this year’s drought conditions are likely to extend into 2022.
FAO and WFP say they have been alerting the world to huge funding shortfalls and the need for urgent action by the international community before it is too late.
"Hunger is rising and children are dying. We can't feed people on promises – funding commitments must turn into hard cash, and the international community must come together to address this crisis, which is fast spinning out of control," Beasley warned.
Save the Children, which champions the rights and interests of children worldwide, said Monday its analysis of the U.N data concludes almost 14 million children are expected to face crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity this winter "More than 5 million children are now just one step away from famine," it added.
The relief agency pointed to this week's media reports that said that eight children from the same family died of starvation in Kabul after losing both of their parents. The siblings, four boys and four girls, were aged between just 18 months and eight years old.
"It seems there is no end to the agony for Afghan children. After decades of war and suffering, they now face the worst hunger crisis in their country's history," said Chris Nyamandi, country director of Save the Children in Afghanistan.
"The situation is already desperate – we see young children in our clinics every day who are wasted from severe malnutrition because they have nothing but scraps of bread to eat," Nyamandi said