Detailed Results from MSF's Nutritional Assessment in Northern Afghanistan
February 22, 2002
In January 2002, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) interviewed 1,290 families (representing 8,680 people) in the Sar-i-Pol displaced camp and in southern Faryab province. Prospects are poor for a population that is selling its belongings, leaving their homes in large numbers, and by and large has no land or seeds to prepare for recovery.
MSF has repeatedly asked donor countries and international organizations to set up adequate general food distribution, but only a fraction of the needed food has been supplied or promised. The MSF teams have now purchased 572 tons of CSB (corn soya blend) and 116 tons of oil to supplement the normal supply channels. But feeding centers and blanket feeding programs are still not enough to address the overall food crisis. A concerted effort is needed from the international community to avert a disaster.
Here is an overview of the results of the survey and MSF's assessment:
There are now more children in MSF's feeding centers than before September 11.
The situation in northern Afghanistan was already dire before international aid workers pulled out of Taliban-held areas of the country due to rising insecurity following the events of September 11, 2001. Now, three months after the MSF teams returned, in Sar-i-Pol alone an average of 30 children are admitted in the feeding centers every day. There may be other factors contributing to this increase, such as relatively more security that allows people to travel, but the admission numbers underscore the data below.
The percentage of severely malnourished children is high.
In January, one in six children admitted to the MSF feeding programs in Faryab province were severely malnourished. These children would probably not have survived much longer without specialized medical and nutritional aid.
Mortality rates appear to have doubled since August 2001.
A nutritional survey carried out in August 2001 in Qaysar and Almar districts (Faryab province) indicated an overall mortality of 0.6 (deaths per 10,000 people per day) and for children under five of 1.4. The MSF assessment in January 2002 showed a global mortality rate of 1.4, and for children under five, of 3.2.
The number of internally displaced keeps growing.
Every day more people leave their homes in search of food. Though there is a certain pull factor connected with locations of aid distribution, the squalid conditions in most displaced camps suggest that people go there out of despair.
The population of Sar-i-Pol displaced camp grew from an estimated 15,000 at the end of November to 23,000 in January. The MSF study found that 99 per cent of the families interviewed in this camp quoted lack of food as the main reason for leaving home.
By mid February, no general food distribution had started in three southern districts of Sar-i-Pol and distribution in other areas has been minimal.
Already last year, southern Sar-i-Pol was identified as being particularly in need of food and nutritional aid. Of all families assessed by MSF in Sar-i-Pol and Faryab, 42 per cent did not receive food assistance over the past year. In Almar district, only one in ten families had received food aid since last winter.
Generally, people in Faryab have hardly any food left.
A quarter of the families assessed by in the MSF study had no wheat left for another day, and a third only for one to three days. Two-thirds of the families had no oil and 93 per cent had no rice.
Those who have food are often on a poor diet.
A resurgence of scurvy in southern Faryab in January illustrates the lack of balanced micro-nutrients in the diet of the population. Scurvy results from a lack of Vitamin C. Instead of solely distributing wheat, people should be offered a more balanced diet to reduce the risk and impact of scurvy during the current hunger gap period.
Alarmingly high numbers of people have sold land and belongings to get food.
Two-thirds of the families assessed in Faryab province have sold personal belongings: household items, livestock and land are mentioned most often. Also, 83 per cent of people have accumulated debts in order to feed their families.
Prospects for this year's harvest are grim.
Only one in three of the families interviewed have any land. Of these people, only 3.2 per cent have started planting and no more than 4.5 per cent have any seeds to plant. Almost half of those who still own some land say they have no hope of planting it this year.