Afghans in remote areas must receive food aid within weeks, agencies warn

‘Catastrophic’ humanitarian crisis looming following Taliban’s return to power

International aid agencies say they have only weeks to supply food and other life-saving assistance to remote provinces of Afghanistan before the winter cuts the regions off for months, as the country faces the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is trying to move food to mountainous provinces such as Badakhshan and Nuristan in the next two weeks before snow and plunging temperatures make transport prohibitively difficult and expensive.

"We have just weeks, not even a month, remaining before humanitarian organisations can reach these provinces before the conditions render it impossible," Necephor Mghendi, the IFRC's Afghanistan head, told the Financial Times. "There's still a small window of opportunity."

The IFRC aims to supply food, blankets and other goods to more than 200,000 people around the country before parts of it are largely cut off. But the charity has only raised about 15 per cent of its 36 million Swiss francs (€34 million) funding target for Afghanistan.

The warning was made as the country descends into a worsening humanitarian crisis after the Taliban retook power in August. The foreign aid that accounted for nearly half of gross domestic product has stopped since the group’s takeover, leaving everything from banks to hospitals to food distribution in a state of paralysis and an economic crisis.

Cash shortages and widespread poverty have pushed already poor families, weakened by years of drought, to the brink.

Acute hunger

The UN's World Food Programme says about two-thirds of Afghanistan's population, some 23 million people, face acute hunger, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, used by international organisations to measure food security. Of these, nine million are facing "emergency" food insecurity.

Mr Mghendi and other aid workers have urged countries to resume aid to Afghanistan in order to help limit the crisis, warning that sanctions or other punitive financial measures against the Taliban risk exacerbating the suffering.

The EU said last month that it would provide €1 billion of aid to Afghanistan and its neighbours and reopen a diplomatic mission in the country. The US also said it would provide $144 million (€125 million) in international aid.

But Mr Mghendi said more needed to be done. Afghanistan “in my view is the most vulnerable [country] in the world at the moment”, he said. “This is a time when [countries] should rally and provide assistance. If not, then there’s going to be a catastrophic situation.”

“The international community needs to balance between sanctioning individuals and sanctioning countries.”

This has fuelled concerns over a refugee crisis if Afghanistan’s economy continues to deteriorate. The UN says that 700,000 Afghans have already been displaced by conflict and insecurity this year.

World Food Programme executive director David Beasley told the BBC this week that the situation in Afghanistan had become "as bad as you possibly can imagine ... 95 per cent of people don't have enough food. Now we're looking at 23 million people marching towards starvation."

He added: “The next six months are going to be catastrophic. It’s going to be hell on earth.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021