By Robin Gomes
In solidarity with the children of Afghanistan who are bearing the brunt of a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis, the digital channels of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in Afghanistan did not celebrate World Children’s Day on Saturday, Nov. 21.
UNICEF Afghanistan turned its online assets dark on World Children’s Day when they typically go blue.
After a dry winter and a weak harvest, drought and food insecurity continue to ravage the country and its people. Almost 14 million children in Afghanistan do not have enough food to eat. Many don’t know where their next meal is coming from. In addition, UNICEF warns that over 1 million Afghan children are at risk of dying due to severe acute malnutrition (SAM), unless they receive immediate treatment. Measles outbreaks are putting children’s lives at risk.
As families become increasingly desperate, UNICEF is noting worrying trends. There is a reported rise in cases of early marriage and child labour, to recruitment by armed groups. Children are not returning to school and over 4 million children, more than half of them girls, are out of school.
“It is difficult to celebrate being a child in Afghanistan right now. By closing our digital platforms on World Children’s Day, we want to send a message to donors urging them to support Afghanistan’s children,” said Alice Akunga, UNICEF Acting Representative in Afghanistan. “Those least responsible for this crisis are paying the highest price,” she lamented.
“No childhood in Afghanistan”
Samantha Mort, Chief of Communication, Advocacy and Civic Engagement at UNICEF Afghanistan, pointed out that some 23 million people, or more than half of Afghanistan’s 38 million population, cannot access affordable or nutritious food. Of these 23 million, 14 million, or 60 per cent are children.
According to Mort, “there's no childhood” these days in Afghanistan. “It's all about survival and getting through the next day.”
She described the level of food insecurity in the country. It means parents have to decrease the portion size of meals and cut back from 3 meals a day to a single. It means not knowing where the next meal will come from.
Exacerbated by drought, a poor harvest and rising food prices, she referred to the looming crisis as “the perfect storm in Afghanistan”. At the start of a typically freezing cold winter, Mort said that snow would cut off rural areas in the mountains.
She expressed concern for some 3.2 million children who are acutely malnourished and 1.1 million children who are at risk of dying because of severe, acute malnutrition unless they intervene immediately.
While visiting health clinics last week in the western part of the country, one clinic showed a 50 per cent surge in cases of severe malnutrition while another revealed a 30 per cent rise.
Mort explained that Afghanistan’s crisis did not start on 15 August with the Taliban when the Taliban took full control of the country. The country had been experiencing some form of insecurity or conflict for the last 40 years.
“But because of the drought...poor harvest...rising food prices, because many women have been asked to stay at home since August 15, a lot of families have lost their main source of income”, she said.
UNICEF’s response action
In response to the crisis, UNICEF is scaling up its programmes for children. In October, it doubled the number of people providing nutrition services in the field from 36 to 72. It has treated an estimated 30,000 children under five suffering from severe and acute malnutrition and doubled its mobile health and nutrition teams.
The UN agency provided 150,000 women with nutrition counselling services on maternal and infant and young child feeding in October alone.
UNICEF is also working with partners to raise communities’ awareness of the risks of child marriage which can lead to a lifetime suffering. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence, discrimination, abuse and poor mental health. They are also more vulnerable to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
UNICEF calls on global leaders to place the rights and welfare of Afghan children at the heart of their discussions around funding the humanitarian crisis. (Source: UN News, UNICEF)