Zarina* has been renting a room in Kabul for herself and her three children since her husband was killed in July. She found work in the local market cleaning kidney beans, while her son collects and sells plastic bags to bring in some additional cash, but it is not enough to support the family. 

“My children are half fed and half hungry,” Zarina says. “We eat rice and bread.”

With the cash assistance she received from UNHCR, Zarina was able to pay what she owed to a shopkeeper.

“If I hadn’t been able to pay the loan, I might have had to sell my baby,” she says.

Afghanistan was facing a convergence of crises even before the Taliban took power in August. A severe drought was withering crops, the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic had increased poverty and the country’s long-running conflict had left over 3 million Afghans internally displaced.

Now, Afghanistan is on the brink of what the UN Special Representative Deborah Lyons has described as “a humanitarian catastrophe”.

The effects of an imploding economy are being felt across society, but those already forced from their homes by the conflict are particularly vulnerable.

Zarina* with her children Tamana, 10, and six-month-old Asad*, and her mother in their rented room in Kabul. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

“My children are half fed and half hungry”

Kabul resident Najiba*, 22, comforts her baby son Roshan*, who is 43 days old and suffering from malnutrition, at the city’s Ataturk Children’s Hospital. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Hunger has reached unprecedented levels in Afghanistan with almost 23 million people – more than half the population – facing extreme levels of hunger. 

The economic crisis has pushed many Afghans who were already living hand-to-mouth into extreme poverty and the number of Kabul residents begging on the streets is rising by the day.  Nearly 9 million people are at risk of famine.

In Kabul, hospitals are treating children and babies suffering from malnutrition. Many mothers are struggling to breastfeed because they themselves are undernourished.

In other parts of the country, locals can’t get medical treatment. Many health facilities have been forced to close due to the suspension of foreign aid since the Taliban took power in August.

Afghanistan is not the only country where people displaced by conflict are facing food shortages.

More than 11 million refugees around the world are currently receiving humanitarian assistance to meet their food and nutrition needs. However, amid global funding shortfalls, assistance is not enough in many places, fuelling malnutrition and protection risks.

“Food security and nutrition in forcibly displaced populations, particularly refugees, is of urgent concern,” says Sajjad Malik, UNHCR’s Director of the Division of Resilience and Solutions.

“We need to collectively ensure humanitarian needs are met while supporting local government to build inclusive, healthy food systems.”

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Women and children beg for bread outside a bakery in Kabul. With a worsening economy and increasing cases of hunger, the number of Kabul residents begging on the streets is rising daily.
© UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

*names have been changed to protect privacy.

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