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Afghanistan struggles with a food crisis in the harshest of seasons

© UNICEF video
A young girl picks potatoes in the fields of Bamyan. Bad droughts and attacks on food convoys are putting further pressure on the supply of food.

By Sarah Crowe

BAMYAN, Afghanistan, 9 December 2008 – For the people of Afghanistan, it’s fast becoming one crisis too many. Already wrecked by war and insurgency, they are now battling a new force – a food crisis in the harshest of seasons. 

Even in Bamyan, one of the most peaceful of provinces in a deeply troubled country, violence further a field has hit home hard and they’re feeling it in their pockets and in their stomachs.

Food prices beyond reach

Ongoing, cross-border insurgency attacks, coupled with a bad drought, have pushed the prices of food up beyond the reach of ordinary people.

Additionally, this year’s drought has bleached and cracked the soil leaving little but withered stalks across much of the rocky landscape. Besides small crops of potatoes, all other staples have to be brought in by road.

Impacting lives

Through reigns of terror, long bitter winters and frozen roads, people here have always coped. This time, they say, is unlike anything they have had to deal with before.

“The attacks on food convoys means the trucks have to go on different roads and that  means they spend more money on fuel and costs go up,” said Ameen Iqbal a shopkeeper in the hills, approximately a two-hour drive from town. “Food prices have reached the peak and it is really impacting people’s lives. I have fewer customers now because people are making less money.

“I don’t see a way out for this; my customers are asking for a loan but I don’t get enough to buy new produce. I just don’t know how people can continue to live. The villagers are jobless and they’re living almost on nothing; they just eat enough to keep themselves alive,” Mr. Iqbal continued.

© UNICEF video
In Afghanistan the price of wheat has risen four times in the past year. As a result, children are cutting back on a diet staple: bread.

Taking extra steps

Fatima Meetra is as feisty as they come. Her sallow skin is polished raw from the sun and the biting wind. Hard work has aged her beyond her 28 years. She has the look of a woman who can take a lot but has had enough.

Fatima and her sons are taking extra steps to keep going. The father has a part-time building job not far away.

Their home, one large room with a shared kitchen, is draped with carpets and dominated by one large loom draped with bales of coloured wool.

These days, her three sons work weaving carpets to help the family income, but they still go to school for half a day – Ms. Meetra won’t compromise on their education.

 “No, no, they must go,” said Ms. Meetra. “Educated people are always ahead and if they don’t go to school, they’ll never know their left from their right. I am not educated and I always get left behind because I cannot read what is going on.”

Stockpiling food

Villagers have stockpiled potatoes and whatever crops they can, but aid agencies are anxious that the food crisis will exacerbate child malnutrition. As it is, about 40 per cent of Afghanistan children under the age of five are underweight with 54 per cent chronically malnourished – amongst the highest rates in the world.

UNICEF, UN agencies and the government are prepared for the worst and have pre-positioned supplies but the security situation has meant that the humanitarian space is shrinking; access to areas in need has been cut off.

 “The situation is serious. There has been a nutrition assessment done jointly by the government, UN and the NGOs in 22 provinces that are mostly affected by food insecurity,” said UNICEF Chief of Nutrition in Afghanistan Dr. Brandao Co. “We will see more children under five malnourished. Moderate malnutrition has also increased.

 “We will do everything to assist and continue to deliver because there are families there and there are children there – and they need food and our health services.”




UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe takes a look at the food crisis in the harshest of seasons in Afghanistan.
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