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15 million Afghans on verge of famine amid US sanctions

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KABUL: In a harrowing report last week, the United Nations in a report listed Afghanistan among the nine hotspots of highest concern, revealing that at least 15.3 million people (35% of population) are estimated to face high acute food insecurity.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint report said over 3.2 million children and 804,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women are acutely malnourished across Afghanistan.

The WFP has been sounding the alarm for several months now. In March, WFP country director in Afghanistan Hsiao-Wei Lee emphasized that the country is at the highest risk of famine in a quarter of a century and WFP’s food assistance is the last lifeline for millions of Afghans. Meanwhile, Ministry of Public Health says 13,700 Afghan children died in the first ten weeks of 2022 largely due to poverty and poor diet.

This comes as the current international aid levels are too low to address the ongoing crisis. The UN has raised only 9% of the $4.6bn in emergency aid it says hungry Afghans need. And only 22% of that budget will be sent by the end of the year.

Humanitarian aid organizations have expressed similar frustrations with US sanctions. NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland had earlier said that the Western sanctions are the main problem in saving lives in Afghanistan.

Aid delivery has been hampered by shortage of funds and US banking sanctions. Head of communications at WFP Philippe Kropf has urgently warned that their food distributions will drop from 13 million people in March to nine million people in April and five million people in May down to zero in June and onwards.

CEO of the International Rescue Committee and former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has also warned that the current humanitarian crisis could kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war. The US-led sanctions limit Afghanistan’s access to international financial institutions and donors, which can impact the ability of national organisations to secure funding for humanitarian aid.

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