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The Hungry Tide

The urban communities are facing food insecurity on levels similar to rural areas for the first time.

SNS | New Delhi |

The visual of a mother holding her one-year-old child in the malnutrition ward of Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital is a grim portrayal of the potentially mortal food crisis in Afghanistan.

“Children are going to die,” is the heartrending warning of the United Nations. More than half of the embattled country’s population of 39 million is facing acute food insecurity and is, to summon the words of the world body, “marching to starvation”.

Millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken to pull Afghanistan back from the brink of collapse, a senior United Nations official has warned, calling for frozen funds to be freed for humanitarian efforts.

According to the Executive Director of the World Food Programme,  David Beasley, 22.8 million people ~ more than half of Afghanistan’s 39 million population ~ are facing acute food insecurity and “marching to starvation” compared with 14 million just two months ago.

Video Afghanistan was plunged into crisis in August this year after Taliban fighters drove out a Westernbacked government, prompting donors to hold back billions of dollars in assistance for the aid-dependent economy.

The food crisis, exacerbated by climate change, had been dire even before the takeover by the Taliban, whose new administration has been blocked from accessing assets held overseas as nations grapple with how to deal with the group.

“What we are predicting is coming true much faster than we anticipated. Kabul fell faster than anybody anticipated and the economy is falling faster than that,” Beasley said. He said the UN food agency needs up to $220 million a month to partially feed the nearly 23 million vulnerable people as winter nears. Many Afghans are selling possessions to buy food, with the Taliban unable to pay wages to civil servants.

The urban communities are facing food insecurity on levels similar to rural areas for the first time. WFP tapped its own resources to help cover food aid till December after some donors failed to meet pledges, Beasley said, adding that with government appropriations already out, funds may have to be redirected from aid efforts in other countries.

Aid groups are urging countries, concerned about human rights under the Taliban, to engage with the new rulers to prevent a collapse they say could trigger a migration crisis similar to the 2015 exodus from Syria that shook Europe.

“I don’t think the leaders in the world realise what is coming their way,” he said, listing off several humanitarian crises in the Middle East, Africa and Central America. The cry for food has overshadowed the political transition. And yet the Taliban does not appear inclined to take even the first steps towards gaining the world’s acceptance.