Alarming Food Crisis in Northern Afghanistan

Mazar-I-Sharif/New York, February 21, 2002 — The food crisis in northern Afghanistan is reaching alarming proportions, according to the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF has assessed the condition of populations in Sar-i-Pol displaced camp and in the southern Faryab province and found a dramatic situation. The organization is witnessing a steady increase in the number of children admitted to their feeding centers. Prospects are poor for a population that is selling its belongings, leaving its homes in large numbers, and by and large has no land or seeds to prepare for recovery.

MSF has repeatedly asked donor countries and additional international organizations to set up adequate general food distribution. Yet, only a fraction of the needed food has been supplied or promised to several "high food insecurity" districts. According to MSF, a concerted effort is urgently needed from the international community to avert a disaster.

"We do not know where the problem lies. All we know is that the food that is needed to pull people through is hardly arriving in remote parts of the north. We urgently need donors and international organizations to pull together and act upon their commitment to the people of Afghanistan," states Christopher Stokes, MSF operational director for Afghanistan.

In a report published today, MSF points out that there are now more children in its feeding centers in northern Afghanistan than before September 11, and that the percentage of severely malnourished children among those admitted is high. Generally, reads the report, people have no or very little food left. Those who do have food are often on a poor diet and cases of scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C, have been detected again since the beginning of this year.

The report also shows that two-thirds of the 1,290 families in the assessment have sold belongings to get some food. Many also sold land and livestock. Of those who still own some land—about one-third of the families interviewed—only 3 percent have started planting and no more than 4.5 per cent have any seeds to plant, making the prospects for their recovery in the next harvest period very poor.

"We are getting increasingly frustrated with the promises of the international community," concludes MSF's Christopher Stokes. "All the talk of world leaders, donor countries, and international organizations about their commitment to the Afghan people translates into little for many people in remote areas. In northern Afghanistan, a new disaster is in the making and can only be averted by immediate and unrestrained action."