Surge of migration makes hunger crisis worse in Afghanistan

Man carries bag away at a wheat seed distribution event for the International Relief and Development-managed AVIPA Plus program in Afghanistan. (Credit: USAID Afghanistan)

More than 9 million people in Afghanistan are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2017. The number of people facing hunger is of particular concern, the U.N. has warned. Some 1.8 million people are acutely malnourished – 1.3 million are children under 5 years old.

“Afghanistan’s nutrition situation continues to be negatively impacted by the conflict and decades of underdevelopment, despite enhanced efforts by government and partners,” according to the Afghan Humanitarian Needs Overview by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “Children under the age of five and pregnant and lactating women continue to bear the brunt of Afghanistan’s nutrition crisis.”

A combination of continued fighting, increased displacement and the return of some 600,000 refugees from neighboring Pakistan fuel the ongoing crisis. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance rose by 13 percent due in large part to ‘unprecedented’ levels of displacement, according to the report. Displacement accelerated at the end of the year reaching a record high of 500,000 people in November.

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The rapid pace of people leaving their homes and refugees returning to the country continues into this year. Afghanistan’s government is struggling to keep up with the needs following the draw-down of U.S. troops in 2015 and the ensuing collapse of the economy in mid-2016.

At least 100,000 transport jobs were lost, found the U.S. Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The sector alone is responsible for about 22 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Combined with job losses in the important construction industry, the economy suffered a major blow. It means that Afghanistan must rely heavily on the international community to support people in need.

“Economic development in Afghanistan requires more than aid, technical advice, training programs, subsidies, and trade fairs,” according to the report. “It requires more than plunking down new projects and programs. It requires attention to growth-enabling fundamentals including improved security and honest governance, as well as energy, health and education, spurred by recognition of a bedrock reality: fear, injustice and corruption spur emigration, inhibit entrepreneurial impulses, and deter both domestic and foreign investment.”

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All those factors contribute to worsening hunger rates. Crop production in 2016 fell from 2015 levels, leaving a 1.2 million metric ton shortage. Severe acute malnutrition rates are above the 15 percent emergency threshold in 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Only 250,000 people were treated for malnutrition as of September, a small fraction of the 1.3 million in need of immediate treatment.

The existing health system is weak. Afghanistan is home to some of the world’s highest infant and maternal mortality rates, as a result. More than 9 million people have limited or no access to health services. Nearly 1 million women are cut off from essential reproductive health services. It also contributes to lower vaccination rates, which leave children susceptible to outbreaks of measles and pertussis.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.