March 21, 2001
Renewed fighting in the last year between the Taliban and the opposing Northern Alliance combined with the worst drought in 30 years and a severe winter have made conditions even more difficult for the civilian population of Afghanistan.
"The world failed to recognize this crisis was coming," said Fouad Hikmat, the country manager for the project of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) based in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. "Instead of preventing this crisis, they reacted too late and now we face the consequences. Afghanistan is heading towards a possible famine and the needs for food and seeds for a new harvest to reverse this are enormous."
MSF has expanded its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan extensively over the last two years, increasing the number of current projects to extend to more than a dozen provinces, in both Taliban and Northern Alliance-controlled territory. MSF also runs programs in Pakistan, Iran, and Tajikistan. All of MSF's programs are focused on providing basic health care (often with a focus on primary health care for women and children), nutrition programs, water, sanitation and vaccination programs targeting diseases like tuberculosis and cholera, as well as some surgical support. MSF is also carrying out nutritional surveys to detect malnutrition.
One area of the country that has been particularly affected is the region around the city of Herat, in western Afghanistan, where there are tens of thousands of internally displaced people. The health and agricultural infrastructure of the country is in ruins. Recent harvests have failed and hospitals and clinics have been destroyed during continuous fighting. An estimated 500,000 Afghans are on the move, to Iran, Pakistan and within their own country.
"Right now we have to focus on the immediate months to come—to get the Afghans through the summer, and hope that the upcoming harvest in August and September will provide them with at least some food and seeds to rebuild a small part of their self sufficiency," Hikmat said.
"A failed harvest would be disastrous," Hikmat added. "I fear that it would be too much for the Afghans who despite all the hardships they have faced continue to show remarkable coping strategies that have enabled them to survive so far."
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)