Afghanistan: Millions facing food shortages, possible starvation

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

587-5876001525s.jpgThe most severe drought in a decade is fueling a grave food crisis in Afghanistan that now threatens millions of people with food shortages and possible starvation, reports ACT International.

Church World Service (CWS) and Christian Aid, members of ACT International with long-established programmes in Afghanistan, have developed plans to assist the most vulnerable in four challenged provinces.

"Funding for this emergency remains a significant challenge," reports ACT director, John Nduna. “What are we saying when only high profile emergencies receive our support?”

The US$1.26 million ACT appeal for the drought in Afghanistan is severely underfunded, receiving less than three percent of the requested support. Mr Nduna stresses that dramatic funding is needed for the ACT alliance to do its part to address this crisis and support Afghan communities.

"Life continues to be difficult for all Afghans, but the tens of thousands of displaced Afghans and returnees from Pakistan and Iran are particularly at risk," says CWS Asia and Pacific regional coordinator Marvin Parvez.

Competing agendas

588-0007399s.jpg"In Afghanistan, the heroin trade, suicide bombings and the ‘war on terror’ has put the humanitarian agenda on the sidelines," says Mr Parvez. "The international community has promised the Afghans so many times that we will not abandon them. Yet what we don’t abandon is our own agendas and then hunger, poverty and human rights are always the last issues to be addressed."

Poverty and conflict dominate the recent history of Afghanistan. The majority of poor Afghans have seen limited change in their villages since 2001 with consecutive years of drought leading to a significant impoverishment of the poorest families. Over time families have had to sell their assets just to survive.

"Inequality in communities and in households remains firmly ingrained in the Afghan society, while fragile political balances often stand in the way of policies to promote equity," says Serena Di Matteo, the country director in Afghanistan for Christian Aid.

"With the already desperate humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the attacks on aid convoys have made it even more difficult to get supplies to reach the most vulnerable people," adds Ms Di Matteo. "Armed groups don’t distinguish between convoys carrying food supplies for affected communities and convoys transporting supplies for foreign military troops."

In addition, Christian Aid reports that a combination of food price hikes, a downturn in the global economy, the effects of climate change, weak governance and the intensification of the armed conflict, threaten to push even more Afghans into the ranks of the desperately poor.

"Unless the international community responds to the issue of hunger in Afghanistan, we will not be able to fulfill any other promises we are making to the Afghan people," notes Mr Parvez. "The humanitarian agenda should be the top agenda."

Severe lack of funding

589-6001520s.jpgCWS and Christian Aid are prepared to respond in the provinces of Nangarhar, Takhar, Laghman and Herat, where recent droughts have severely affected the residents' food security and the inflow of Afghan returnees from neighboring countries has increased the demand for food. The ACT members plan to work alongside communities to increase sustainable food production, improve irrigation systems, provide clean water and strengthen livelihoods.

However, all plans depend on the availability of external funding.

Based on UN estimates, some 2.2 million tons of cereals need to be imported into the Afghanistan this year just to meet basic needs. Commercial imports were expected to supply 1.5 million tons. But, in the current situation -- marked by high prices and the smallest wheat harvest in years -- any meaningful commercial imports of food and agricultural inputs are unlikely. The bulk of the nearly one million-ton shortfall will need to be met by the international donor community.

Speaking on the resilience of affected communities, Mr Parvez said, "The Afghans never fail... It is us who fail them."

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