The Afghan Taliban’s appeal for food assistance appeared to have been made in desperation. But the world must listen. This is very serious by all means and the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan that we are looking at will be much more than simply a public relations debacle for the rich Muslim countries and the Western world. It would be huge by all calculations. Hundreds of thousands might die of hunger in Afghanistan’s freezing winters.
United Nations humanitarian assistance organisations are predicting a severe food shortage in Afghanistan if timely and adequate resources are not made available to the people of that country on an immediate basis, said a senior official of United Nations in a background interview in Islamabad.
The worst-case scenario includes large scale migration of Afghan people towards neighbouring countries including Pakistan and the Central Asia states. A UN assessment says that half of the Afghan population is facing a serious malnutrition crisis. I had a chance to meet Ramiz Alakbarov, UN humanitarian head in Afghanistan, on the sidelines of the OIC foreign ministers’ conference in Islamabad last month. He predicted that if aid and assistance are not timely delivered, anything could happen in Afghanistan. “We are working to avert a major crisis. But everything is possible if resources are not made available,” he said in a background interview. He further said that the Taliban are fully cooperating with UN efforts to avert a crisis and the fact that there was no fighting going on in the country is facilitating the efforts. “This is for the first time we have access to the whole of Afghan territory,” he said.
Afghanistan’s local food and agricultural production is sufficient to feed only half of its population and the rest is facing malnutrition and food shortages that could lead to starvation or mass exodus. “Agricultural production in Afghanistan has suffered a lot because of drought. Half of the Afghan population is experiencing serious malnutrition,” said the UN’s Alakbarov.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has been – and will remain – complex. In the last four years, Afghanistan has been struck by a very serious drought. And this humanitarian crisis has been overlaid with conflict especially that which raged in the first half of the year. Afghanistan is a very poor country and there are problems of structural nature, which obstruct the growth of the agricultural sector in a war-torn country. These factors contributed to a crisis where a large proportion of the Afghan population doesn’t have access to basic needs such as food, sanitation and winter items. “There were shortages of everything. We will be reaching 17 million people with our assistance by the end of the year. So far we have reached 8 million people with food assistance and 1 and half million people medical assistances,” the UN’ Alakbarov said. “We are grateful to our donors that they have provided us with essential required funds. People continue to suffer from malnutrition. We have a large number of people in Afghanistan who wake up in the morning not knowing where their food will come from.”
There is a growing fear in neighbouring countries that they would have to entertain another wave of humanitarian refugees as the cold winters arrive in the region. “We are trying to avoid a situation where there will be a large-scale exodus towards the neighboring countries with every possible means. That is why our teams are on the ground. More than 20 UN agencies are working on the ground and a large number of NGOs and international organisations are making efforts to provide food and essential items to Afghan people. We don’t want such a situation.”
Money is beginning to trickle in:
“We asked for $600 million and we received that money. And by the beginning of the year we have been asking for $1 5 billion and we have it. It will largely depend on continued supplies and one thing that needs to be assured is that Kabul airport remains open. Roads between Pakistan and Afghanistan should remain open. It will also depend on the snowfall and the roads remaining open in the mountains. If we have the resources, we are determined to avert the exodus of people out of Afghanistan. And if resources are not available to us then everything is possible,” he reiterates his stark warning.
Further expanding on the transportation aspect, he said:
“Kabul Airport should remain open at all costs. We need air travel for continued supplies of medicine. Most of the food comes through trucks. We are not only talking about Kabul airport. We are talking about every airport in Afghanistan, they should remain open,” he said, “We need to have a well organised traffic control in place at all airports to ensure continued supply of humanitarian assistance for Afghan people. This is still not in place.”