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UN Warns That More Than Half Of Afghans Face 'Acute' Food Shortages

Afghans sit beside sacks of food grains distributed as aid by the World Food Programme in Kandahar on October 19.

Almost 23 million Afghans will suffer "acute food insecurity" this winter due to the combined impacts of drought, conflict, the coronavirus pandemic, and an economic crisis exacerbated by turmoil after the Taliban took power in the country, two UN agencies warned on October 25.

The World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in a joint statement that the already unstable country is confronted with one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

"This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our life-saving assistance," said David Beasley, WFP executive director.

"Afghanistan is now among the world's worst humanitarian crises -- if not the worst -- and food security has all but collapsed," Beasley said.

"We are on a countdown to catastrophe and if we don't act now, we will have a total disaster on our hands."

More than one in two Afghans face Phase 3 "crisis" or Phase 4 "emergency" food shortages from November through March, the WFP and FAO said.

Afghanistan -- already struggling to emerge from a two-decade-long conflict -- is facing its worst winter in a decade after the Taliban overthrew the internationally backed government in August.

Afghanistan's economy is in a parlous state with most aid cut off as winter nears, food prices rise, and unemployment spikes.

Despite vowing to restore stability in the war-wracked country, the Taliban still faces a range of international sanctions and a campaign of bloody attacks by an Islamic State offshoot. The group is seeking international recognition, as well as assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster.

The effects of a second severe drought in four years continue to impact the livelihoods of 7.3 million people who rely on agriculture and livestock to survive, the statement said.

"Amid worsening drought, FAO is seeking $11.4 million in urgent funding for its humanitarian response and is seeking a further $200 million for the agricultural season into 2022," the two UN agencies said.

"Hunger is rising and children are dying. We can't feed people on promises -- funding commitments must turn into hard cash," Beasley said.

"The international community must come together to address this crisis, which is fast spinning out of control."

On October 24, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid sought to allay fears of an impending humanitarian catastrophe.

"We are trying to arrange and distribute, including food and clothing. All worries will be resolved," he promised, adding that "global humanitarian aid has also arrived."

The European Union on October 12 announced an expanded support package for Afghanistan and its neighbors worth about 1 billion euros ($1.15 billion) to try and contain the spiraling humanitarian crisis.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stressed that the funds are "direct support" for Afghans and would be channeled to international organizations working on the ground -- not to the Taliban-led cabinet that Brussels does not recognize.

With reporting by AFP
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