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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

UN sounds alarm over food crisis in Afghanistan as international aid remains paused


The Taliban has no more than one month to form a government and win international recognition to unlock foreign aid before a hunger crisis takes over Kabul.

The United Nations is warning that Afghanistan is on the verge of a food crisis while the Taliban are still trying to form a new government after seizing the capital Kabul. 

“The situation… from a humanitarian perspective continues to be extremely tense,” Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN’s humanitarian chief in Afghanistan, said on Wednesday, adding that more than half the children in the country are already facing food insecurity. 

The UN representative said severe hunger could prevail in the war-torn nation within a month, leaving one out of three people hungry.

In recent weeks, the UN’s World Food Programme stepped in to provide food to tens of thousands of people in the crisis-hit country.

However, they the organisation is now running out of food stockpiles as foreign aid remains shut while waiting for the Taliban to make good on pledges, including forming an inclusive government that would help it gain international recognition.  

With the harsh winter season on the horizon, Alakbarov said that at least $200 million is urgently needed to continue feeding the most vulnerable Afghans, most of whom are children.

“By the end of September, the stocks that the World Food Programme has in the country will be out,” Alakbarov noted. “We will not be able to provide those essential food items because we’ll be out of stock.”

The UN chief stressed on the importance of delivering all kinds of aid, including food, shelter and health supplies to the country as the clock continues to tick.

“I call on all parties to facilitate safe and unimpeded humanitarian access for life-saving and life-sustaining supplies, as well as for all humanitarian workers men and women,” he said.

To date, only 39 percent of the $1.3 billion worth of aid efforts has been implemented in Kabul, UN officials said earlier. 

Afghanistan relies heavily on international aid and reserves which are currently frozen and held abroad amid a worsening economic situation. 

Aside from shortage in food supplies and other essentials, Afghanistan has been recently witnessing around a 50 percent surge in food prices, while petrol prices have increased by some 75 percent, according to Al Jazeera.

In addition to food scarcity, Alakbarov noted that employees in the public sector and civil servants are not receiving their salaries due to chaos and stagnancy of government services.

‘Darkest hour’

Meanwhile, the Afghan currency has been losing value as money exchanges remain closed.

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, Khalid Payenda, Afghanistan’s former acting finance minister said that the local currency is expected to plunge by more than 100 percent.

Earlier, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed grave concern at the humanitarian and economic catastrophe in Kabul, warning that almost half of the country’s population- 18 million people- are in dire need of humanitarian aid to survive.

“One in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from. More than half of all children under five are expected to become acutely malnourished in the next year. People are losing access to basic goods and services every day.”

He called on all member states to help “the people of Afghanistan in their darkest hour” of assistance.

“I urge them to provide timely, flexible and comprehensive funding. I urge them to help ensure humanitarian workers have the funding, access, and legal safeguards they need to stay and deliver,” he added.

Guterres urged the international community to support the vulnerable Afghans and stressed that the humanitarian system is committed to stand and help the people of Kabul.

On Tuesday, Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban leader, told Al Jazeera that the formation of a new Afghan government is in its final stages and will be announced in “a few days”.

“We have covered about 90 to 95 percent and we will announce the final outcome in the following few days,” Haqqani said earlier, noting that it was still early to mention the names of new cabinet members.

Read also: Qatari technical team onboard first flight to land in Kabul airport

Meanwhile, the movement is still seeking to win international recognition. Without this vital move, foreign aid is likely to remain blocked.  

Hours after the completion of the foreign troop withdrawal earlier this week, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the press that the new government will “try to attract foreign investment” based on mutual cooperation and interests and they should not have an impact on Afghanistan’s sovereignty.

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