COVID-19: More than seven million children in Afghanistan at risk of hunger as food prices soar due to lockdown
A third of the country will face food shortages, warns Save the Children.
At a time when Afghan children need adequate daily nutrition to help strengthen their immune systems, the price of basic foods is rising under the lockdown, making it harder for families to feed themselves.
A third of the population – including 7.3 million children – will face food shortages in April and May due to the current pandemic[i].
Just in the past month, the price of wheat flour and cooking oil in Afghanistan’s main city markets have increased by up to 23 percent as supply is unable to meet demand, while the cost of rice, sugar and pulses have increased by between 7 and 12 percent, according to the World Food Programme.
While food prices are increasing, the financial ability of daily wage labourers to buy food is decreasing, as casual work dries up because of nationwide restrictions. A large portion of the Afghan workforce relies on the informal sector, with no safety nets when work is scarce.
Even before the global COVID-19 crisis, the total number of children who needed some form of humanitarian support this year stood at 5.26 million[ii], making war-torn Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child.
The most recent nutrition surveys in Afghanistan show that an estimated two million children under five will suffer from the most life-threatening form of extreme hunger annually[iii]. The effects of the lockdown coupled with one of the weakest health systems in the world – Afghanistan has just 0.3 doctors per 1,000 people – means malnourished and sick children are much less likely to get the life-saving treatment they need to survive.
13-year-old Mustafa* lives in Sari Pul province in northern Afghanistan with his four siblings and mother. Mustafa* goes to school and works in a local food shop to supplement the family income. But since the lockdown, he is at home, unable to go to school nor earn any money to help put food on the table. Save the Children has provided the family with a cash transfer so Mustafa* no longer needs to work.
13-year-old Mustafa* said:
“We don’t have any food at home. From three meals a day we are down to two and sometimes just one. My mother is trying to find food for us, she is weaving carpets to sell but everywhere is closed right now. She can only make us tea with dry bread. My other siblings sometimes ask for good food, but my mother can’t afford to feed us. It’s hard to be alive.”
Timothy Bishop, Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, said:
“We are deeply concerned that this pandemic will lead to a perfect storm of hunger, disease and death in Afghanistan unless the world takes action now to ensure vulnerable children and their families have enough to eat, especially those in remote areas and the urban poor.
“The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 means many families are stressed about putting food on the table, with no clear indication of how long the current crisis will go on. Meanwhile children who miss out on their daily nutritional needs are at far greater risk of getting sick. In extreme cases the lack of food may even affect a child’s physical and mental development, with devastating consequences for the rest of their lives.
“For many Afghans the biggest impact of the pandemic will not be the virus itself, but the hunger caused by lockdown measures and a breakdown in supply lines. We are facing the very real risk that children could die from starvation. What we need is for the international community to urgently fly in food supplies to be distributed to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country, including children, pregnant women, the elderly, malnourished, and those who are sick. We also urge the Afghan government to facilitate the rapid distribution of food, despite the nationwide lockdown.
“Afghan children have suffered enough. Most have known nothing but conflict in their lives. We cannot allow COVID-19 to further rob them of their futures.”
*name changed to protect identity
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
- To support them during the COVID-19 outbreak, Save the Children in Afghanistan will target the most vulnerable and income-poor households in the areas where we operate. The targeted households for food assistance will be comprised of shock-affected host community households, returnees and internally displaced people. Casual and daily wage labourers will be prioritised due to their higher vulnerability under the new circumstances. Additionally, Save the Children will target herders and farmers with cash support for supporting their livelihood activities.
- Save the Children has temporarily suspended all non-essential activities in Afghanistan to protect staff and beneficiaries from the effects of COVID-19. Emergency cash transfers for food are being implemented to ensure the most vulnerable don’t go hungry.
- Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976. We currently implement programmes in 16 of 34 provinces, either directly or through partners, reaching more than 700,000 children.
- Save the Children works closely with Afghan society at all levels. We work with children, parents, teachers, village councils, religious leaders, ministries and other national and international NGOs. Our way of working close to people on their own terms has enabled us to deliver lasting change to tens of thousands of children in the country.
[i] Preliminary findings from the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) 2020, conducted from 6-16 April bringing together more than 35 experts from government, science community, NGO, INGO and UN Agency partners, found that a third of the population – 12.6 million people – will face food shortages in April-May. An estimated 58 percent of the Afghan population is under 18 years. More details available upon request.