Acute food insecurity affects 14 million people in Afghanistan who lack reliable access to water, food and basic health and nutrition services, after years of conflict and the economic crisis that has worsened after the Taliban takeover in August.
The alarm sounded after a two-day visit to the city of Herat by Hervé Ludovic De Lys, representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Afghanistan and Mary-Ellen McGroarty, representative of the World Food Program (WFP) Afghanistan and country director.
Mothers who struggle to breastfeed
Mr De Lys and Mrs McGroarty spoke to a mother who could no longer breastfeed her daughter. The 18-month-old is being treated for severe acute malnutrition at the Regional Hospital of Herat. “We have no food in the house. We sell everything to buy food, but I hardly eat anything. I am weak and I have no milk for my child,” Jahan Bibi told them.
“As more families struggle to put food on the table, the nutritional health of mothers and their children is getting worse by the day,” said Mr. The Lys.
“Children are getting sicker and their families are less and less able to give them the treatment they need. Rapidly spreading outbreaks of measles and acute watery diarrhea will only exacerbate the situation.”
Families face ‘desperate choices’
According to WFP surveys, 95 percent of households in Afghanistan do not consume enough food, adults eat less and skip meals so their children can eat more.
“We are deeply concerned about the desperate choices families face,” said Ms. McGroarty. “Unless we act now, malnutrition will only get worse. The international community must release the funds they pledged weeks ago or the impact could be irreversible.”
Ms. McGroarty and Mr. De Lys visited a food distribution center in the city of Herat, where they met families struggling to make ends meet amid drought and lack of jobs.
They also visited a settlement for internally displaced families where mobile health and nutrition teams provide life-saving services to women and children, supported by UNICEF and WFP.
The two UN agencies are adding 100 additional mobile health and nutrition teams. Already 168 mobile teams provide a lifeline for children and mothers in hard-to-reach areas.
Since early 2021, WFP has provided life-saving food and nutrition assistance to 8.7 million people, including treatment and prevention of malnutrition for nearly 400,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women and 790,000 children under the age of five.
Nearly four million people were reached in September alone. In addition, this year more than 210,000 children with severe acute malnutrition received life-saving treatment through UNICEF-supported services. Over the past eight weeks, ready-to-eat therapeutic food for more than 42,000 children and therapeutic milk for 5,200 children were also delivered to UNICEF partners.