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A girl sits with women outside a hospital in Kabul A girl sits with women outside a hospital in Kabul 

UN: Severe malnutrition threatens half of Afghanistan’s children under 5

Two WFP and UNICEF officials have raised an alarm over the severe food and nutrition crisis in Afghanistan after a 2-day visit.

By Robin Gomes

Two United Nations agencies have raised an alarm over dire poverty, undernourishment and food insecurity in Afghanistan, where some 3.2 million children under five are on the verge of severe malnutrition in the coming months.  Representatives of the UN Childrens’ Fund, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme, WFP, in Afghanistan on Tuesday raised their voice after a 2-day visit to the troubled country.

Hervé Ludovic De Lys of UNICEF Mary-Ellen McGroarty of WFP said that without reliable access to water, food and basic health and nutrition services, Afghan children and their families are bearing the brunt of years of conflict and the current economic crisis.

14 million facing severe food insecurity

14 million people in the country are facing acute food insecurity, and an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. At least 1 million of these children are at risk of dying due to severe acute malnutrition without immediate treatment.

De Lys and McGroarty narrated the ordeal of Jahan Bibi and her 18-month-old daughter who is being treated for severe acute malnutrition at the Herat regional hospital.   Herself hungry and malnourished, Bibi said, she is unable to breastfeed her baby.  Amid severe poverty and soaring prices of food, she said, they are selling everything to buy food, yet can barely eat.

The two officials warned that with winter fast approaching, they were racing against time to assist Afghan families also lacking access to safe water and health and nutrition services.

95% of families eating less

According to WFP surveys, 95 per cent of households in Afghanistan are not consuming enough food, adults are eating less and skipping meals so their children can eat more.

“As more families struggle to put food on the table, the nutritional health of mothers and their children is getting worse by the day,” De Lys of UNICEF said. “Children are getting sicker and their families are less and less able to get them the treatment they need. Rapidly spreading outbreaks of measles and acute watery diarrhoea will only exacerbate the situation.”

WFP’s McGroaty said they have “huge concerns about the desperate choices families are being forced to take”. “Unless we intervene now, malnutrition will only become more severe,” she said. 

The two UN officials visited a food distribution centre in Herat city where they met families struggling to make ends meet amidst drought and lack of jobs. They also visited a settlement for internally displaced families where mobile health and nutrition teams are providing life-saving services to women and children, supported by UNICEF and WFP.  The two agencies are adding 100 more mobile health and nutrition teams. Already 168 mobile teams are providing a lifeline for children and mothers in hard-to-reach areas.


Officials at Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital said that many malnutrition treatment centres had been closed in Afghanistan as health facilities face a shortage of medical supplies, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported on Sunday.  Dr. Farid Ahmad Andishmand explained that when people cannot afford a meal a day they will soon face an acute health crisis. 

Health officials voiced concerns over the suspension of international donations to the health sector.  “We want the world countries to continue their donations,” Mohammad Latif Bahir, head of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital, told Tolo News.  

WFP’s McGroaty also appealed to the international community to release the funds they pledged weeks ago, warning that the impact could be irreversible.

UN’s outreach in Afghanistan

Since the beginning of 2021, WFP has provided life-saving food and nutrition assistance to 8.7 million people, including treatment and prevention of malnutrition for nearly 400,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women and 790,000 children under five years of age.  WFP was able to reach out to nearly 4 million people in September.  Additionally, this year, more than 210,000 children with severe acute malnutrition were provided with lifesaving treatment through UNICEF-supported services.  Ready-to-use therapeutic food for more than 42,000 children and therapeutic milk for 5,200 children was also delivered to UNICEF partners in the past eight weeks.  (Source: UNICEF, WFP)

05 October 2021, 17:18