Photo: WFP/Marco Di Lauro

Half of Afghanistan’s Population Face Acute Hunger as Humanitarian Needs Grow to Record Levels

Published October 25, 2021

ROME/KABUL – More than half the population of Afghanistan – a record 22.8 million people – will face acute food insecurity from November, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report issued today by the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster of Afghanistan, co-led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

The combined impacts of drought, conflict, COVID-19 and the economic crisis have severely affected lives, livelihoods and people’s access to food. The report’s findings come as Afghanistan’s harsh winter looms, threatening to cut off areas of the country where families desperately depend on humanitarian assistance to survive the freezing winter months.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report has found that more than one in two Afghans will be facing crisis (IPC Phase 3) or emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity through the November 2021 to March 2022 lean season, requiring urgent humanitarian interventions to meet basic food needs, protect livelihoods and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

The report also notes that this is the highest number of acutely food insecure people ever recorded in the ten years the UN has been conducting IPC analyses in Afghanistan. Globally, Afghanistan is home to one of the largest number of people in acute food insecurity in both absolute and relative terms

“It is urgent that we act efficiently and effectively to speed up and scale up our delivery in Afghanistan before winter cuts off a large part of the country, with millions of people – including farmers, women, young children and the elderly – going hungry in the freezing winter. It is a matter of life or death. We cannot wait and see humanitarian disasters unfolding in front of us – it is unacceptable!” said QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General.

“Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises – if not the worst – and food security has all but collapsed. This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our lifesaving assistance, and unless the economy can be resuscitated. We are on a countdown to catastrophe and if we don’t act now, we will have a total disaster on our hands,” said David Beasley, U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director.

“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.

Hunger Spreads From Rural to Urban Areas

The IPC report reflects a 37 percent increase in the number of Afghans facing acute hunger since the last assessment issued in April 2021. Among those at risk are 3.2 million children under 5 who are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. In October, the U.N. World Food Programme and UNICEF warned that 1 million children were at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition without immediate lifesaving treatment.

For the first time, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, marking the shifting face of hunger in the country. Rampant unemployment and the liquidity crisis mean that all major urban centers are projected to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of food insecurity, including formerly middle-class populations.

In rural areas, the severe impact of the second drought in four years continues to impact the livelihoods of 7.3 million people who rely on agriculture and livestock to survive.

Current Funding a Drop in the Ocean

FAO and the U.N. World Food Programme have been alerting the world to huge funding shortfalls and the need for urgent action by the international community before it is too late. Immediate financial support is now crucial to meet the most basic humanitarian needs as Afghans confront winter with no jobs, cash, or prospects, just as another La Niña event is on the horizon meaning this year’s drought conditions are likely to extend into 2022.

To meet the scale of needs, the UN will need to mobilize resources at unprecedented levels. The UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan remains only a third funded. The U.N. World Food Programme in planning to ramp up its humanitarian assistance as we enter 2022 to meet the food and nutrition needs of almost 23 million people in Afghanistan. To meet the task at hand the U.N. World Food Programme may require as much as $220 million per month.

Since the beginning of 2021, the U.N. World Food Programme has provided food, cash and nutrition assistance to 10.3 million people, including malnutrition treatment and prevention programs for nearly 400,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women, and 790,000 children under 5.

FAO continues to deliver vital emergency livelihood interventions at scale in Afghanistan, providing lifesaving support and cash assistance to farmers and livestock owning households who comprise 70 percent of the total population, so they can remain productive.  More than 3.5 million people will be supported this year, with FAO reaching over more than 330,000 in August and September alone.

Amid worsening drought, FAO is seeking $11.4 million in urgent funding for its humanitarian response and is seeking a further $200 million for the agricultural season into 2022. FAO is now distributing wheat cultivation packages, including high quality and locally-supplied seeds, fertilizers and training. This campaign is expected to benefit 1.3 million people across 27 out of 34 provinces of the country in the coming weeks.

Note to editors:

IPC Report brief can be accessed here & IPC Snapshot here.

Broadcast quality footage available here.

Photos available here.

The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations. FAO supports the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, leaving no-one behind. That includes addressing acute levels of food insecurity, providing agricultural and pastoralist communities with support so they can continue to produce food, earn income, and save their livelihoods.

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