Afghanistan: Lack of food, aid, money and prolonged drought put 10 million at risk

The UN says an additional 18 million people are also facing a humanitarian disaster as money either promised or frozen in the US remains out of reach.

Photo: Volunteers label a shipment of humanitarian aid to be sent to Afghanistan at Bahrain international airport. There are hopes Kabul airport will reopen soon. Photograph: Mazen Mahdi/AFP/Getty Images

07 September 2021 | Peter Beaumont | The Guardian

Access to food aid and other life-saving services in Afghanistan is close to running out, the United Nations has warned, as concern mounts that the country is facing a “looming humanitarian catastrophe”.

The grim assessment from the UN’s Office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs [OCHA] came amid an appeal for an extra $200m (£145m) in emergency funding in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover sparked a host of new issues.

The UN says 18 million people are facing a humanitarian disaster, and a further 18 million could quickly join them.

The warning came as the UN’s children’s agency, Unicef, disclosed that it had registered hundreds of children who had been separated from their families in the chaos of the evacuation from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai international airport.

The children included unaccompanied minors who ended up on flights to countries including Germany and Qatar.

With several key donors including Germany, the World Bank and EU suspending their aid programmes follow the Taliban’s lightning military conquest of the country last month, spiralling food prices, the impact or recent devastating drought and uncertainty over how the hardline Islamist movement will provide services to an impoverished and largely rural population, the question of aid has become ever more urgent.

“Basic services in Afghanistan are collapsing and food and other life-saving aid is about to run out,” OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said adding that $606m in aid was needed for Afghanistan until the end of the year.

The issue of Afghan aid will be discussed next Monday at a ministerial meeting in Geneva hosted by the UN chief, António Guterres.

The country, under the control of the Taliban after 20 years of war, is facing a “looming humanitarian catastrophe”, Guterres’s spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, warned last week when announcing the conference.

With almost half of Afghanistan’s population of 40 million people requiring humanitarian support, EU foreign ministers on Friday agreed to a joint approach to working with the Taliban demanding that the government permits access to humanitarian aid.

With Afghanistan’s former western-backed government heavily reliant on international aid, concern has been growing over how services including the country’s fragile healthcare system can be sustained in the coming weeks and months.

Last week, Doctors with Borders raised its own alarm. “One of the great risks for the health system here is basically to collapse because of lack of support,” said Filipe Ribeiro, Afghanistan representative for the organisation.

“The overall health system in Afghanistan is understaffed, under-equipped and underfunded, for years. And the great risk is that this underfunding will continue over time.”

The continuing sense of chaos around the situation in Afghanistan was underlined by the disclosure on Tuesday by the Unicef director, Henrietta Fore, of the scale of the problem of children separated from their families during the US-led airlift from Kabul.

“Since 14 August, hundreds of children have been separated from their families amidst chaotic conditions, including large-scale evacuations, in and around the Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul. Some of these children were evacuated on flights to Germany, Qatar and other countries.

“Unicef and our partners have registered approximately 300 unaccompanied and separated children evacuated from Afghanistan. We expect this number to rise through ongoing identification efforts.

“I can only imagine how frightened these children must have been to suddenly find themselves without their families as the crisis at the airport unfolded or as they were whisked away on an evacuation flight.

The mounting worries over how to secure continuing aid to Afghanistan came as the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday that the Taliban had reiterated a pledge to allow Afghans to freely depart the country following his meeting with Qatari officials on accelerating evacuations.

The US president, Joe Biden, has faced mounting pressure amid reports that several hundred people, also including Americans, had been prevented for a week from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan.

The Taliban told the US that “they will let people with travel documents freely depart,” Blinken told a news conference in Doha where he and the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, met their Qatari opposite numbers. “We will hold them to that,” he said.

Qatar said that Kabul airport, which has been largely closed since the conclusion of Washington’s chaotic withdrawal from the country at the end of August, would reopen soon, potentially opening an important corridor for Afghans seeking to leave.

“The entire international community is looking to the Taliban to uphold that commitment,” Blinken said, referring to a UN security council resolution that urged safe passage.

Biden’s senior cabinet members had dinner on arrival on Monday with Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, where they expressed Washington’s thanks to Doha for its assistance with the Afghanistan airlift.

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A young Afghan girl carries her younger brother in southern Afghanistan (Photo: Kenny Holston/Flickr)

Afghanistan at risk of hunger amid drought and Taliban takeover

As the Taliban seizes control of Afghanistan, experts warn severe drought could worsen the humanitarian crisis triggered by an exodus of western forces

28 August 2021 | Isabelle Gerretsen | Climate Change News

More than 10 million Afghans are facing acute food insecurity caused by prolonged drought as the Taliban seizes control of the country.

Experts say drought and severe water shortages have compounded instability and conflict in Afghanistan for decades and are worsening a humanitarian crisis precipitated by the withdrawal of US and allied troops.

Afghanistan is in the grips of its second drought in four years. Since 1950, Afghanistan’s average annual temperature has increased by 1.8C, according to the climate security expert network. Heavy rainfall events have increased by between 10-25% over the past 30 years.

14 million people, around 35% of Afghanistan’s population, were already facing acute food insecurity before the Taliban takeover, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Half of all Afghan children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told Reuters last week that Afghans are facing a double threat: conflict and drought. “You have a kind of combination effect of displacement caused by war and by military hostilities compounded with displacement caused by drought and by the difficult economic conditions,” Alakbarov said.

Oli Brown, associate fellow at Chatham House, told Climate Home News that food insecurity will increase in the next few months as snow makes roads in parts of the country completely impassable. “Unless you have a working system of governance to provide a safety net before the snow comes in, people will get stuck,” he said.

Afghans have found themselves caught in a vicious cycle of climate change and conflict for over 40 years. “One creates conditions for the other,” said Brown. Water and land scarcity have increased community-level conflict, poverty and instability, which in turn have driven environmental degradation and the depletion of resources.

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Climate change is expected to bring more frequent and intense extreme events, such as droughts and flash flooding, to the country in upcoming decades. More frequent droughts could boost the drug economy as opium poppies flourish in warm, dry climates.

Opium poppies are drought-resistant, easy to grow and transport, according to Brown. “Where wheat fails,  opium poppies often survive,” he said. 

“Increased opium revenues continue to fuel armed opposition groups and encourage corruption among government officials,” said Janani Vivekananda, a senior advisor on climate change and peacebuilding at thinktank Adelphi.

Afghanistan’s climate plan, submitted to the UN in 2015, outlines that all the country’s 34 provinces are highly vulnerable to climate impacts, including drought, heatwaves and glacial lake melts. Water stress is a major concern as 80% of the country’s population relies on rainfed agriculture for their livelihoods. 

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The climate plan said $2.5 billion was needed for watershed management and $4.5 billion for the restoration of irrigation systems by 2030. But investments in boosting water and climate resilience over the past decade have been insufficient, experts say.

Vivekananda said that this issue is likely to be “kicked into the long grass” as development aid is suspended and the immediate focus shifts to humanitarian aid. “It is incredibly critical that this is not seen as a long-term issue, but rather as a priority issue for stabilising the situation now,” she said. “It underlies any hope of addressing the longer term humanitarian needs of the Afghanistan population.”

Brown said international partners, including the US, did invest in building new irrigation channels, but that it is unclear how many of these were properly maintained. 

Improvements to irrigation systems in some cases increased poppy cultivation and opium production, according to a report by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR).

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President Joe Biden has decided to finish evacuating US troops from Afghanistan by 31 August, an administration official said on Tuesday.

In the past week since the Taliban took the capital Kabul, thousands of Afghans have fled the country, including government officials, journalists and translators for western forces. Thousands more are camped in Kabul airport hoping to get a seat on a plane.

As western powers lose their appetite for foreign intervention, a return to Taliban rule for the country looks all but inevitable. The hardline Islamist group, which enforces a strict version of sharia law, was removed from power by US-led forces in 2001.

Ensuring water access and protecting people from severe climate impacts is critical to the governance of Afghanistan, said Vivekananda. “Providing safe, predictable and regular water would be an opportunity for the Taliban to prove their legitimacy and show good governance.”

“It is the essential resource for agriculture, which is essential for the economy and provides the vast majority of livelihoods,” said Brown. “If the Taliban care about the Afghan people, they are going to have to care about water.”


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