'It Is Hard to Overstate the Severity of the Situation'

Afghans struggle to feed their families amid UN aid cuts and a looming winter
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2023 4:05 PM CST
'It Is Hard to Overstate the Severity of the Situation'
Afghan girls and women carry donated aid to their tents, while they are scared and crying from the fierce sandstorm, after an earthquake in Zenda Jan district in Herat province, western of Afghanistan, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.   (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The UN's World Food Program has had to cut 10 million Afghans off emergency food assistance over the past year due to "a massive funding shortfall," exacerbating a crisis that will continue to worsen into the winter as snow cuts off supply routes and food and fuel prices climb. More than a third of the population, some 15.8 million people, will experience acute food insecurity before March, including 7.8 million children, per the New Arab. Yet the WFP says it can provide emergency assistance to only 3 million Afghans per month. Sohaila Niyazi, a widowed mother of six in Kabul, used to receive flour, oil, and beans from the WFP. Now, barred from working under Taliban rule, she relies solely on gifts from neighbors. She tells the BBC she often has nothing but non-nutritive tea to feed her 15-month-old, whom she drugs to keep from crying out in hunger.

Like many others in Afghanistan, she gives her child a common antihistamine that causes sedation. "I give it so that she doesn't wake up and ask for milk because I have no milk to give her," Sohaila tells the BBC, which reports the medicine can cause respiratory distress in high doses. "She sleeps from one morning to the next" and "sometimes I check to see if she's alive or dead." Another woman tells the BBC that she used to sell items on the street to earn money to feed her family before the Taliban stopped her. "Two times the Taliban government gave me some money, but it is nowhere close to enough," she says. "I asked one Taliban brother, 'What do I feed my children if I don't earn?' He said, 'Give them poison but don't come outside your home.'"

There are more than 3 million children suffering from malnutrition in Afghanistan. Some 25% of those suffer severe acute malnutrition. "It is hard to overstate the severity of the situation," per the BBC. "Millions are surviving on dry bread and water. Some will not make it through the winter." Taliban rep Zabihullah Mujahid tells the outlet that the government can not longer rely on donations from foreign countries. (The UK has slashed aid to Afghanistan by nearly 60% this year, per the Independent.) "We have to become self-reliant. Our economy has stabilized and we are giving out mining contracts which will create thousands of jobs," he says. He adds that if aid is dependent on the Taliban restoring rights to women, the Taliban will not give in. "Afghans have made big sacrifices in the past to protect our values and will endure the cutting of aid too," he says. (More Afghanistan stories.)

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