Conflicts & War

Afghans battle hunger, malnutrition as winter intensifies

By Moncho Torres

Kabul, Dec 22 (EFE).- Winter has arrived in Afghanistan and the queues for food aid keep growing, with more than half of the population facing shortages, while international restrictions on the new Taliban regime have continued to limit the flow of humanitarian aid.

A Taliban leader told EFE in an informal conversation in his office that Afghanistan was a proud nation which does not like to beg, but necessity has forced thousands of Afghans to take to the streets.

At traffic stops in Kabul, dozens of children knock against car windows, hang from the bonnet or even sit in the middle of the road to beg for the worn-out currency bills that barely amount to a few cents.

Meanwhile, at a distribution point of the World Food Program, dozens of people wait in several queues with their ration cards for the second handout by the group in the area in less than a month.

Sameer Ahmad Sadozai, one of the coordinators at the center in Kabul’s southern Police District-7, told EFE that there were around 1,620 beneficiary families in this area, who receive a sack of 46 kilograms of flour, another with 8.4 kgs of maize, 1 kg salt, and a bottle with 5 liters of oil.

“We went door to door and we gave them cards, now at this distribution post we have distributed food to around 1.200 people (in two days), and the process will continue. The people absent today will be called up and they can come to take their food,” the next day, a freezing Sadozai said.

Taliban fighters present outside the center ensure that the beneficiaries enter in order, one by one.

Inside, they are divided into queues, with their information being noted, and the cards are punched and fingers marked with indelible ink as the rations are loaded onto a cart.

Unlike beggars all over the city, many people waiting at the distribution center appear to have fallen on bad times only recently, as the crisis has intensified since the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15, with jobs drying up and international aid supplies being cut.

Mohammad Rafi arrived at the center just before it was about to close, after being alerted by a friend and borrowing 300 Afghanis (around $3) to reach the place with a vehicle on which the rations can be carried.

“Our economic condition is very bad, we are a 7-member family and I am the only support. My house is also in bad condition and we don’t even have a carpet to cover the floor or bread to eat,” he told EFE.

The WFP has warned that “a humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions has grown even more complex and severe since the Taliban took control,” and that “22.8 million Afghans – or more than half the population – are not consuming enough food.”

Moreover, malnutrition is above emergency levels in 25 of the 34 Afghan provinces and is expected to get worse, with nearly half of the children below the age of 5 and one fourth of all pregnant and lactating women being in urgent need of life-saving nutritional support within the next 12 months.

The Taliban government’s public health ministry spokesperson, Jawid Hazhir, told EFE that currently there were over 3.5 million malnourished children in Afghanistan and the halt in supply of international aid has resulted in the lack of necessary resources to tackle the situation.

“In the earlier government, about 95 percent of the health sector in Afghanistan was supported by foreign organizations and just 5 percent of the sector belonged to the government. (…) With the coming of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban regime) suddenly everything changed,” he said.

Although ruling out a complete collapse of the health system, Hazhir admitted that the situation was “not good.”

At Kabul’s Indira Gandhi hospital, pediatrician Mohammad Hamayoon told EFE that “everyday a lot of children suffering from for protein-energy malnutrition come to the hospital,” but unfortunately they were incapable of admitting more patients.

The children come from different provinces of the country, including a five-year-old with cerebral palsy caused by acute malnutrition, who has arrived from the southern city of Kandahar.

The child looks like a skeleton, with barely any muscles or fat on his body.

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