GENEVA - The United Nations reports humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating, with children at great risk of dying at an early age from lack of health care and proper nutrition.
The United Nations reports 9.3 million people in Afghanistan will need humanitarian assistance this year. The world body has appealed for $550 million to support 5.6 million of the most vulnerable people.
U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman Jens Laerke says this is nearly one third of the Afghan population and 13 percent more than the number of U.N. beneficiaries in 2016.
“We expect very high levels of conflict-induced displacement and already this year, over 38,000 people have been newly displaced," said Laerke. "In addition to that, we expect more returns of vulnerable families from Pakistan who will in fact not return to their homestead, but continue to be displaced, but inside Afghanistan. They return typically with very little, very few or no assets at all and they really need our support.”
Laerke says it is likely more life-saving interventions will be needed to deal with acute health and nutrition emergencies this year.
The U.N. children’s fund says children and mothers will be at great risk. The agency calls Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a baby, a child or mother because of limited access to health care.
UNICEF reports thousands of Afghan women die every year from largely preventable pregnancy-related causes. In 2015, it says more than one in every 18 Afghan children died before their first birthday.
UNICEF spokesman, Christophe Boulierac, calls malnutrition a silent emergency. He says more than 41 percent of Afghan children under age five are stunted, one of the highest rates in the world.
“Stunting, as you know, is a sign of chronic undernutrition during the most critical periods of growth and development in early life," said Boulierac. "Children who suffer from stunting are more likely to contract diseases, less likely to access basic health care, and do not perform well in school.”
Indeed, Boulierac notes Afghanistan’s education system has been devastated by more than three decades of conflict. He says 3.5 million children do not go to school. An estimated 75 percent of them are girls.