Afghans face hunger crisis two months after Taliban takeover

Hardliners say they will pay labourers in wheat to stave off worsening food shortages

A new Taliban programme is offering what for work to combat hunger in Afghanistan. AFP
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The UN has said that Afghanistan is heading towards a humanitarian disaster, with half of the country’s population struggling to find enough food two months after the Taliban returned to power.

With winter approaching, two UN food agencies on Monday said 22.8 million people would face “acute food insecurity” in Afghanistan next month, including 8.7 million who could face “emergency-level” food shortages.

The Taliban have struggled to replace services provided by the western-backed government that they overthrew in August. Donors have since cut back on funding to Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy.

“Children are going to die. People are going to starve,” World Food Programme executive director David Beasley told Reuters.

“I don’t know how you don’t have millions of people, and especially children, dying at the rate we are going with the lack of funding and the collapsing of the economy.”

The latest UN food survey shows a 37 per cent increase in hunger levels compared with results in April. Rising unemployment and Afghanistan’s economic malaise have left formerly middle-class urban Afghans unable to put enough food on the table.

Shaza Moghraby, a World Food Programme spokeswoman, said the agency needed an extra $220 million each month to stop what was “fast becoming the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with needs surpassing those in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen”.

Afghanistan was already struggling with poverty, drought, power cuts and the coronavirus pandemic even before the Taliban returned to power.

The hardliners on Sunday launched an anti-hunger, food-for-work programme, offering to hire 40,000 jobless men in the capital Kabul and thousands more across the country, and to pay them in wheat instead of cash.

The two-month campaign would include the distribution of 11,600 tonnes of wheat in the capital, and some 55,000 tonnes for elsewhere in the country, including Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and Pol-i-Khomri.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said hired labourers would have to “work hard”. Those in the capital would dig water channels and catchment terraces for snow in the hills to combat drought.

Updated: October 25, 2021, 3:30 PM