KABUL, 15 August 2023 – Three quarters of children (76.1%) surveyed by Save the Children in Afghanistan said they are eating less than a year ago as the country faces soaring poverty and hunger two years since the Taliban regained control.
The country’s worst drought in 30 years has caused crops to fail, livestock to die and put food and water further out of reach for children and their families.
More than a third (38.4%) of children surveyed have been pushed into work to help their families cope, the new analysis revealed[i].
Children are being forced into dangerous labour, with staff from the children’s charity reporting that one girl was crushed to death by a truck as she was smuggling goods over a border crossing.
The survey of households in six provinces laid bare the escalating needs resulting from a deadly mix of poverty, climate change and the legacy of conflict, after millions have been deprived of food aid due to cuts in international funding.
Gwen Hines, Chief Executive at Save the Children, said: “Children in Afghanistan are facing the threat of death from starvation and dangerous labour, and families are taking desperate measures to survive. The UK Government’s decision to more than halve its funding for the country this year is a tragic blow to their hopes and dreams. It is a betrayal of everything Britain should stand for and it breaks the UK’s promise to ‘leave no one behind’.
“We urge the UK Government to urgently increase funding for lifesaving support. But a humanitarian sticking plaster is not enough. The decision by the UK and others to halt development assistance to Afghanistan in August 2021 had catastrophic consequences for the country’s economy and its people. The UK must also resume long-term development funding to ensure children’s basic needs for health and education are met. This is the only sustainable route to a better future for Afghan children.”
Sajida*, 31, and her family in northern Afghanistan have been badly hit by the drought and economic crisis. Two of her children, 8-month old twins Nahida* and Nadira*, have been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, which can be deadly, and are receiving treatment at a mobile health clinic run by Save the Children. Sajida wishes she could feed her children potatoes, fruit and meat, but they can only afford rice.
Sajida said: “We don’t have water in our village. We go to another village and use donkeys to bring water back here. There are long queues [of people] waiting for water. All the farmers pray for rain, but this year they are hopeless. They think the drought will destroy normal life here.”
She added: “My children come and say to me: “Mum, we don’t want to eat boiled rice. Give us potato fries.” But with teary eyes, I say: “I wish we had potatoes in the kitchen, but the only food I can cook is boiled rice.”
“They are very young, and they don’t know what it means to be poor and to not have money to buy potatoes. I feel bad seeing the condition of my children. I can’t give them a good life, not even a portion of good food.”
Afghanistan is one of the world’s starkest illustrations of the deadly toll the climate crisis is taking on families who depend on agriculture to survive. The country is now facing its third consecutive year of drought, which is affecting more than half the population. The drought has impacted 58% of the households interviewed by Save the Children.
Levels of hunger are higher in northern Afghanistan, where families rely heavily on farming. Here, the drought has led to severe hunger in one in three households - 34.3% - in Sar-e-Pul province and one in five households - 20.7% - in Jawzjan, home to Sajida and her family. [ii]
Hunger not only has a serious impact on children’s physical health but also on mental health, creating anxiety and depression[iii].
Women and girls are at the sharp end, with more than twice as many female-headed households living with severe hunger as male-headed households[iv] and 17% more girls than boys are eating less than they were last year[v].
All this has led to child labour, with more than a third (38.4% ) of children surveyed working to support their family, and 12.5% of households reporting having their children migrating for work, opening up an unprecedented child protection crisis.
Save the Children does not have comparable data from the same provinces last year. However recent data from the International Labour Organisation found one in 10 children across Afghanistan are engaged in child labour[vi].
Save the Children is calling for an urgent injection of humanitarian aid as well as long-term development assistance from the UK and wider international. Children’s rights, especially girl’s right to education, must be prioritised.
Arshad Malik, Country Director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, said: “Two years since the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan, conditions for children and their families are abysmal. What we are seeing is a perfect storm of the climate crisis, poverty and the legacy of conflict inflicting hunger, malnutrition and misery on people who have done nothing to contribute to any of these conditions.
“We hope that the international community, which has significantly cut funding to critical food aid across Afghanistan, will rethink this isolationist approach, remember the millions of innocent children whose lives are in jeopardy, and stop punishing them for decisions they have had nothing to do with.”
Save the Children’s initial analysis surveyed 1207 adults and 1205 children in Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kabul, Nangarhar, and Sar-e-Pul provinces, Afghanistan, between 8 July and 2 August 2023.
Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976, including during periods of conflict, regime change, and natural disasters. It has programs in nine provinces and works with partners in an additional six provinces.
Since the Taliban regained control in August 2021, Save the Children has been scaling up its response to support the increasing number of children in need in areas that were previously inaccessible. Save the Children delivers health, nutrition, education, child protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and food security and livelihood support. Since September 2021, Save the Children has reached more than 4 million people, including 2.1 million children.
*names has been changed to protect anonymity
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[i] Save the Children’s initial analysis surveyed 1207 adults and 1205 children in Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kabul, Nangarhar, and Sar-e-Pul provinces, Afghanistan, between 8 July and 2 August 2023.
[ii] The classification of severe hunger is being hungry more than 10 times over the past 30 days.
[iii] The initial analysis shows 28.9% of children who show daily signs of depression have reduced their food intake from last year, compared to signs in 12.2% whose food intake has not reduced. It also shows 32.3% of children who show daily signs of anxiety have reduced their food intake from last year compared to signs in 14.4% whose food intake has not reduced.
[iv] The initial analysis showed 26.% of female-headed households living with severe hunger compared to 10% of male-headed households. The classification of severe hunger is being hungry more than 10 times over the past 30 days.
[v] The initial analysis showed 82.1% of girls have reduced their meal intake from last year, compared to 70.2% of boys.
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