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Men wait as women (not pictured) and their children wait for staff members from Doctors Without Borders to check for signs of malnutrition, at a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Herat. Men wait as women (not pictured) and their children wait for staff members from Doctors Without Borders to check for signs of malnutrition, at a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Herat.  (AFP or licensors)

CAFOD: 'Give' to famished Afghanis this Christmas

The official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has joined forces with the Disasters Emergency Committee to send aid to Afghanistan, where over 8 million people are on the brink of famine, and where over the next three months over one million children under the age of five risk dying.

By Linda Bordoni and Francesca Merlo

In Afghanistan, over 8 million people are on the brink of famine. Over the next three months over one million Afghan children, under the age of five, risk dying from malnourishment or disease as their families are no longer able to buy food for them amid the nation's economic collapse and a healthcare system on its knees.

But, humanitarian organizations point out as they launch an unprecedented appeal for the nation: "it only takes £10 to provide treatment to a child suffering from malnutrition for three weeks and it would only take £20 to feed an entire family for a whole week."

As Christians and as men and women of goodwill preparing to celebrate Advent and the birth of the Lord, we are called to think of our brothers and sisters in need and take action.

Appeal for aid

Amongst the aid agencies joining an appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee is CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. Janet Symes is Head of Region for Asia and the Middle East for CAFOD and she explains to Vatican News' Linda Bordoni that this appeal has to be made now because "this is a country that has been suffering the effects of conflicts for decades". She adds, “they are going through the worst drought they’ve had for 27 years and the economic situation has deteriorated so drastically that over 8 million people, including more than a million children, are at risk of dying, and half the country’s population is facing acute hunger”. That’s 22.8 million people.

Listen to the interview with CAFOD's Janet Symes

Winter is creeping up

Winter, she notes, is arriving in Afghanistan, where temperatures can fall as low as -12 degrees centigrade. Acting quickly is essential before the freezing weather sets in.

Afghan men prepare traditional heaters in preparation for the cold winter ahead
Afghan men prepare traditional heaters in preparation for the cold winter ahead

But people are struggling just to be able to buy food, let alone fuel to keep themselves warm, says Symes. Afghanistan is historically aid-dependant, and the ever-worsening political situation in the country has led to many of its international donors pulling out. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, “the people who are suffering the most are the poorest people, the most vulnerable, older women, people living with disabilities, and children”. “They're all in real desperate need of our assistance",  she adds.

Symes explains that the most necessary thing right now is cash: “People need money, (...)  There is actually enough food in the country but the people just can’t afford it.”

People buy fruits at a roadside stall in a market in Jalalabad
People buy fruits at a roadside stall in a market in Jalalabad

There is also enough fuel. “So we are looking to provide cash assistance so that they can purchase food and fuel”, the two essentials for survival as winter approaches. In some cases, Symes continues, we are actually providing food aid. “This is for people who have difficulties accessing markets” or food, for whatever reason.

What do we need?

To clarify, Symes specifies: “we are asking for donations in order to be able to tackle this acute hunger crisis in the country. We're looking for food for people to be able to survive the winter. We’re looking for fuel, food, blankets… these are the sorts of things that people are being asked for”.

The season of giving

Symes goes on to note that “especially during this season: Advent, and then Christmas, it is a time to think about the people in the world who are not in as good a situation as we are”.

She explains that as a Catholic organisation, “it is absolutely critical, within our faith, to help people across the world, whatever their faith”.

An Afghan worker makes skeins of wool, Herat
An Afghan worker makes skeins of wool, Herat

"These are people who are in in desperate need. I think it fits entirely with our faith”. She notes that CAFOD is able to work with Afghan organisations, who have a real understanding of where their support is coming from, “that it is coming from people who are really wanting to be able to help them in their time of need”. 

Symes also recalls that “Pope Francis says there is unanimous concern for the situation in Afghanistan and has clearly indicated how important it is that we're able to support its people at the moment”.  

Donate

It's very east to donate to the cause, says Symes. Following links on CAFOD's website, you will notice that very little is needed to help many people in Afghanistan. 

"So when you think of all the money we are spending at the moment for our own celebrations," consider, she concludes, that "a very small amount will go a very long way to help people in Afghanistan".

Afghan youth play football at a ground in Chaman-e-Hozori, near Kabul
Afghan youth play football at a ground in Chaman-e-Hozori, near Kabul
15 December 2021, 17:44