Oxfam warns of looming food crisis in Afghanistan

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 20 Sep 2011

Nearly three million people across Afghanistan are facing severe food shortages as a result of drought, international aid agency Oxfam warned today as it called on donor governments to act now before the crisis becomes a catastrophe.

The drought is affecting 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces in the north, north-east and west of the country, where 80 per cent of the rain-fed wheat crop, which people rely on for food and income, has been lost.

Many people in these areas were already suffering from chronic hunger. Nearly three-quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.

Oxfam called on donors to heed the lessons from the current drought in the Horn of Africa, where delays cost lives and resulted in avoidable hardship, and ensure that enough funds are made available to meet immediate humanitarian needs for food and water.

Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam in Afghanistan, said: “Governments need to wake up to the gravity of this crisis and ensure they are ready to respond before the situation gets worse. Delays will just make things harder for families already struggling to cope.”

“The drought has completely destroyed the wheat crop in some areas. People are reducing the amount of food they are eating and selling what little they have. We still have time to stop this from becoming a disaster, but only if we act now.”

Pastures have been completely destroyed because of the drought, and the price of animal feed in the market has quadrupled, so people are selling their livestock because they cannot feed them and they need money to buy food for themselves.

An estimated 50 per cent of livestock in drought affected areas has already been sold, but the prices have fallen by 40-50 per cent. At the same time, food prices have skyrocketed, putting basic food items out of reach of poor families. Cereal prices in affected areas have increased by 80 per cent.

There is also a lack of water in affected areas. Many water sources have dried up, so people and animals are being forced to share the same sources, leading to contamination and a heightened risk of water-borne disease. The situation is made all the more urgent by the fact that most of the affected areas are inaccessible during winter, and so will soon be cut off from any sort of assistance.
Aid is needed now to ensure that families have the support that they need to see them through winter and to the next harvest.

“There have been reports of people trekking nine hours to get clean water and going into debt to ensure their children have food. Donor and aid agencies need to heed these warning signs and ensure that people have the support that they need,” Charles added.

Oxfam is already working on long-term community development projects in Daikundi and Badakhshan Provinces, as well as running health and nutrition programs in Sarepul, Balkh and Faryab.

Oxfam will provide essential water, sanitation and food to communities in the north and north-east of the country who are most severely affected by the drought. We will also assist people to provide for themselves in the future by creating jobs and supporting local agriculture.

For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795 or cheecheel@oxfam.org.au