Hunger Crisis in Afghanistan: “The Outlook for 2023 is Terrible” OCHA Reports
By: Amin Kawa
The Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan has caused the worst and largest hunger crisis in the country. In the last six months, the majority of investors have left, international support for development initiatives has been withdrawn, and thousands of government employees have been laid off. The Taliban’s control has forced most private institutions and businesses to close, and the drought, restrictions, Taliban retaliation, and mass exodus of citizens have further exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. According to the UN Human Aid Coordinator (OCHA), 5% of Afghan civilians have seen a decrease in income, and three-quarters or more of their loans have gone towards buying food. Additionally, their limited annual income has gone towards paying for education and healthcare. The crisis has been further deepened by human rights violations, poverty, and lack of access to basic services. The World Food Program estimates that six million Afghans are suffering from hunger and five million have died of starvation, with at least four million Afghan children under the age of five suffering from acute malnutrition.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report on Sunday, March 12th, which stated that the deteriorating economy has caused a drastic decrease in family income, an increase in debt, and a high rate of unemployment; up to 80% of Afghan families have experienced a decrease in their income. The report also stated that “82 percent of all households have taken on debt, and the amount of debt is approximately 11 percent higher than the previous year.”
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Afghanistan is currently facing a severe humanitarian crisis; 28.3 million people, which is two-thirds of the population, will require humanitarian aid in 2023, as the majority of their income is spent on food, leaving only a small amount for other necessities such as education and healthcare. This subsidiary organization of the UN has reported that the situation in this nation has deteriorated due to increasing poverty, human rights violations, and limited access to essential services.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported that 28.3 million people in Afghanistan require humanitarian assistance, which is the cause of the critical humanitarian situation. The UN partners have prioritized 23.7 million of these people to receive aid in 2023, out of the 28.3 million citizens of the country who are in need of it most, and 4.62 billion US dollars are necessary to provide this humanitarian aid, as stated in the OCHA report.
The vision for 2023 is yet to be determined, however, the OCHA’s report indicated that both immediate finance and a conducive operational environment are essential to prevent the worst-case scenarios from occurring. Representatives from the United Nations Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Office have reported that Afghans endured a difficult winter, with some areas experiencing temperatures as low as -35°C in January 2023. This extreme cold has resulted in the death of thousands of livestock and has put the population at risk of famine, exacerbating their suffering.
According to a report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Afghanistan has an alarmingly high prevalence of malnutrition. OCHA’s research predicts that by 2023, 875,000 children will suffer from severe malnutrition, while 2.3 million children and 840,000 women will experience semi-severe malnutrition. The research also states that Afghanistan is currently in its third year of drought and second year of catastrophic economic decline, and the nutritional situation may worsen by 20%.
Barriers to Women’s Employment in International Agencies
The World Food Program (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) conducted a report which found that the prohibition of women from working in national and international organizations had a detrimental effect on the distribution of aid to women, particularly those who are the heads of households. WFP and OCHA officials stated that male assistance workers cannot substitute for female helpers. The report highlighted that these prohibitions are a result of the Taliban‘s gender–based violence against women. During a meeting of the council‘s human rights committee, Richard Bennett, the UN‘s special rapporteur for Afghanistan‘s human rights, discussed the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
According to this argument, the Taliban have deliberately and with premeditated policy placed limitations on women in social sectors. Furthermore, Roza Otunbayeva, the UN Secretary General‘s special representative, expressed concern about the ban on women working in institutions during the organization‘s Security Council meeting.
On Monday, March 13, the World Food Program (WFP) released a study indicating that 28.3 million Afghans are in need of immediate humanitarian aid, and that it will cost 200 million dollars to reach them. The report further states that two–thirds of the population require multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance, and that four million people, including 3.2 million children under the age of five, are severely malnourished.
The United Nations committee has concluded that approximately 20 million people will be highly food insecure by March 2023, with more than six million of them experiencing severe starvation. Additionally, it has been reported that four million Afghan youth suffer from chronic malnutrition.
The World Food Program has found that Afghanistan has the highest rate of food insecurity in the world, with one in every two households requiring emergency food aid. Their research indicates that, on average, 88% of household income is spent on food due to the fact that 92% of Afghans are not consuming enough food.
Business People’s Perception of Revenue Decrease
According to research conducted by the World Food Program, 81% of Afghans require food aid and loans in order to sustain themselves, with those with disabilities being the most vulnerable. This organization also reported that four out of every ten families (44%) are concerned about losing their employment, and that economic issues are among the top worries of the public.
Businesspeople have expressed their worries about the economic disaster and the drastic decrease in their profits, even though the United Nations has reported that Afghan incomes have decreased by 80%. Market activity in the country has significantly decreased, making it hard for people to buy medicine, one of their basic needs, and many opt not to go to the doctor.
An anonymous pharmacist informed the Husht–e–Subh that the people‘s health was so poor that, even in the worst case scenario, they were unable to visit a doctor and obtain medicine. The pharmacist further stated that the situation was dire, as sales were not good. People were distressed and could no longer afford to buy medicine or visit a doctor when they were ill due to their reduced income and weakened economies. They simply wanted to provide food for their children, whereas this was not the case in the past.
He went on to state that due to a lack of funds, people are unable to visit a doctor even when they are severely ill, and instead resort to taking Paracetamol to alleviate their pain. This has caused an increase in both the death rate and the number of illnesses that result in death, which is a direct consequence of poverty, as people are unable to access medical care or medication until it is too late.
One of the businesswomen who was compelled to cease operations due to insufficient revenue informed Hasht–e–Subh that security issues and the departure of experienced personnel due to the incapability to provide a satisfactory salary were the reasons for her to shut down her business.
In an interview with Husht–e–Subh, Fatema Eitemadi, Vice President of the “Best Food“ company, stated that their fast–food company had once produced 72 different types of bread. Despite the business gaining and losing money, the earnings were not enough to cover their bills. The issues were very serious and the employees‘ salaries were still in place. As a result, the business had to be closed down, as it was not a profitable income. Furthermore, security issues were present and many female employees had to leave their jobs, leading to the loss of talented personnel. The current staff were paid modest rates, but due to their precarious economic situation and security issues, they were unable to prepare the items ahead of time. Therefore, the business was shut down two weeks ago.
Economists‘ Views on Decreasing Incomes
According to economic analyst Azerakhsh Hafezi, who spoke to Husht–e–Subh, Afghanistan‘s economic situation is transitioning from a dire state to a catastrophic one. He noted that living conditions for the people are deplorable. With the return of their armed forces to their nation and the services they used to purchase from abroad, the large expenditure that was reliant on foreign funding and the military presence of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan has ceased.
Mr. Hafizi noted that the figures and data regarding hunger and poverty in Afghanistan, as presented in the most recent report from the United Nations World Food Program and Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, are inaccurate.
He asserted with confidence that the data was inaccurate as there was no authoritative source in Afghanistan that could provide such information. He further stated that no country has ever achieved prosperity through charity, subsidies, or begging, and that such assistance programs are not enough to help the Afghan people sustain themselves. To this end, Afghanistan needs to attract international capital as well as Afghan investors who have emigrated there. He noted that in 51 countries around the world, there are industrial and commercial complexes associated with Afghans, and that many entrepreneurs who have made investments abroad could contribute to the country if the environment is favorable, there is a secure social atmosphere, and there is protection for both property and people‘s lives.
Mr. Hafezi continued by stating that people can transfer their money to Afghanistan in order to promote economic growth. As Afghanistan does not have a self–sufficient economy nor a viable political environment for business, investment opportunities and sectors can be opened up when a political platform is provided. Therefore, a strong and powerful political system is essential for the government to operate, one that is recognized globally and encourages development, as well as one that people can rely on for investment. Without good political leadership, economic progress is not possible. Consequently, ceasing aid will only worsen Afghanistan‘s humanitarian crisis due to its current chaotic economic situation.
Humanitarian organizations and United Nations affiliates have consistently requested financial and other forms of aid from external sources in order to address the plight of those in poverty and oppression in Afghanistan. The Taliban have ceased to pursue legal action against foreign organizations for their assistance to Afghanistan, yet they have yet to make a statement regarding the World Food Program and the OCHA report. This aid is the bare minimum available to those in need, and it is a long–term program that requires time to implement economic and investment projects.