Food Crisis Worsening in Northern Afghanistan

Nutritional Survey Findings Shows Malnourishment in Children Rising

Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan, January 18, 2002 — A nutritional survey conducted by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) over the past two weeks in the Karai valley, in Faryab province, northern Afghanistan, shows that 1 out of 7 children under five is malnourished. The nutritional screening of 2,706 children resulted in figures of 4.5 % of severe and 10.4 % of moderate acute malnutrition (equaling 14.9% global malnutrition). It also found that, on average, families only have wheat left for another 5 days, and that only 23% of the families received food during the last distribution. At the same time, MSF sees a substantial increase in the number of severely malnourished children coming to the feeding centers in Faryab province. This is an alarming sign of a deteriorating food crisis. An MSF nutritional survey conducted in August of 2001 already showed a global malnutrition rate of 10%. Since then, the situation has only worsened. A recent mortality survey also carried out by MSF showed that the mortality rate has doubled.

The humanitarian situation in remote areas is rapidly worsening since the quality and quantity of the current general food distribution is insufficient and not reaching the most vulnerable population. The south of Faryab province is one of the areas most affected by years of drought. According to an assessment of the World Food Program (WFP), the population can only meet less than half of their food requirements.

"Underestimating the current food crisis is extremely dangerous," says Malik Allaouna, MSF's Head of Mission in Mazar-I-Sharif. "The only way to prevent a further degradation of the situation is to increase the volume and the quality of the food that is provided to the most affected areas, and to safeguard distribution among the most vulnerable families."

The northern and western provinces of Afghanistan have been affected by the ongoing drought. The situation is particularly bad in the remote mountainous regions, where agriculture depends on adequate rainfall and numerous cattle have already perished. The population in the region has already reached the end of its coping mechanisms and is surviving mainly on bread and tea. The region saw a scurvy outbreak last winter and at least three new cases were detected in Qeysar district in the first weeks of this year.

Last year MSF opened five feeding centers in northern Afghanistan. Because of the further deterioration of the nutritional situation, four more feeding centers were recently opened. But the food security in the region can only improve if there is a sufficient and well-balanced food ration distributed to all vulnerable families. An MSF blanket food distribution will start in the Karai valley, Faryab province, but assessment teams exploring the region expect to find more villages where the food situation is critical. The organization stresses though that even with an increase of MSF programs, a blanket feeding program cannot replace a proper general food distribution.

Map of MSF Missions in Afghanistan and Neighboring Countries
as of January 15, 2001