Deepening food crisis compounds Afghanistan’s problems

Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz and Takhar province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, collect food in Kabul. (AFP/File Photo)
Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz and Takhar province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, collect food in Kabul. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 08 September 2021

Deepening food crisis compounds Afghanistan’s problems

Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz and Takhar province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, collect food in Kabul. (AFP/File Photo)
  • UN World Food Programme’s GCC head spoke to Arab News about war-torn country’s needs
  • Up to 14 million identified as food insecure, including 550,000 displaced by conflict this year

DUBAI: At the end of August, with the Taliban in control of most provinces of Afghanistan, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned that the country’s humanitarian and economic crises were getting worse, despite evacuation flights for civilians from Kabul airport coming to an end.

Expressing his concern over the situation and the threat of a total collapse in basic services, he said: “Now more than ever, Afghan children, women, and men need the support and solidarity of the international community.”

The circumstances suggest Guterres was right on the money. The combined effects of a severe drought, conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic have made even the simplest of preparations for winter in Afghanistan difficult for international aid organizations.

The UN has said that 18 million out of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million are facing a humanitarian disaster, with the potential of another 18 million joining them.

A senior official of the UN World Food Program has told Arab News of the organization’s concerns, just days after it appealed for money to purchase and “preposition” food for millions of Afghans before winter snows cut off access roads to them.

Mageed Yahia, the WFP’s UAE country director and representative for the Gulf Cooperation Council region, said: “We need money urgently. As I speak, we need around $200 million just to get us from September to December, or our pipeline will break. As early as October, our pipeline of wheat will run out.”

He identified the funds crunch as the biggest challenge facing the program, the other ones being lack of security and stability, and the weather. He said even $200 million was a “drop in the ocean” in comparison with the money required to cover actual needs. A WFP estimate has put the country’s total food-funding requirements for this year at $559 million.

Yahia warned that if widespread hunger was not prevented in Afghanistan, it could lead to mass migration and more conflicts, the costs of which would dwarf the amount currently sought by the WFP.




A child(C) looks at the aircraft as he is strolled towards his flight during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 24, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

“I think it is important to realize that the cost to the international community would be far less if the problem was tackled now instead of being allowed to grow out of control,” he added.

Citing Syria as a cautionary tale, he pointed out that in 2015, when the WFP ran out of funds in the war-torn Arab country, large numbers of people used rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe.

In Afghanistan, the WFP has a staff of 300, including locals and foreign nationals, who operate from sub-offices in Kabul, Jalalabad, Faizabad, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, and Herat.

UN officials have said the turmoil in the country has not affected WFP operations and that all programs are running according to plan.

The WFP said it remained “dedicated to maintaining its guiding principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and operational independence.”

At the same time, Yahia noted that “protection is being provided to WFP food convoys, buildings, and staff” in Afghanistan.

Before the arrival of Afghanistan’s bitterly cold winter season, the WFP typically starts planning several months in advance. Yahia described the process as “winterization — buying food from wherever it is available closest, be it in Pakistan, Kazakhstan, or even sometimes Afghanistan, then transporting it and, finally, stocking it.”

So far, high summer temperatures have masked the hardships that lie ahead for the Afghan people in winter. Summer is the time of year when the WFP “prepositions” food stocks in warehouses and with communities throughout Afghanistan. The food is then distributed to needy people before access to them is cut off by the winter snows.




Afghan people sit inside a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan, at the military airport in Kabul on August 19, 2021 after Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)

But the hot summers were also to blame for what he said was Afghanistan’s second-biggest drought in the past three years.

“We are talking about more than 40 percent of the country. Crops have been lost to this drought, leaving families with incomes that are not enough even to buy food,” he added.

INNUMBERS

* 14m - Afghans who are food insecure.

* $200m - Money needed by WFP until end of 2021.

* 550,000 - Afghans displaced by conflict this year.

* 2m - Malnourished children.

Over half of Afghanistan’s population lives below the poverty line because conflict and lack of safety have cut off entire communities from livelihood opportunities.

At least 14 million people have been identified as food insecure, including 550,000 who have been displaced by conflict since the beginning of the year.

“The conflict did not materialize in just the last few weeks. It has been ongoing for several years. This has resulted in large population displacements,” Yahia said.

The hunger emergency comes on top of a humanitarian crisis prompted by the withdrawal of US and NATO troops and the rapid reconquest of the country by the Taliban.

The UN has pointed out that 18 million Afghans depend on international aid for survival. Getting that aid into the country during a turbulent period has proved enormously difficult as commercial aircraft have been unable to land at Kabul airport.

Displacement has resulted in large numbers of Afghans having no access to work and food supplies, making them entirely dependent on WFP assistance, Yahia added. COVID-19 and its consequences have also affected the lives and livelihoods of people, who struggle to put food on the table even in normal times.




Children from the Internally displaced Afghan families arriving from districts of Khan Abad, Ali Abad and Imam Sahib who fled the fighting. (AFP/File Photo)

He noted that following the withdrawal of US and Western troops, many Afghans had been unable to access their money in banks. “Now the banks have opened, but there is limited availability of cash. People can withdraw a maximum of $200 per week. We don’t know for how long the banks will stay open, whether the limits on cash withdrawal will be lifted or tightened.

“If the humanitarian situation deteriorates further, leading to starvation, the world will realize that the conflict goes beyond Afghanistan,” he said.

The WFP, which has had a presence in Afghanistan for almost the last 60 years, distributes food parcels to nearly 400,000 people displaced internally by conflicts over the decades.

It is also assisting 600,000 families affected by the economic impact of COVID-19 by giving each nearly $80 to cover food needs for around two months. Another program provides free meals to schoolchildren.




Mageed Yahia, the World Food Program's UAE country director and representative to the GCC region, warns that many Afghan families have been left without enough income to buy food after drought destroyed their crops. (Supplied)

“So, in total, 5 million people are benefiting from WFP assistance, with food, cash, school meals, and nutritious products for those who are suffering from moderate malnutrition.

“We are scaling up our programs to reach 14 million people in Afghanistan. In the next few weeks, we need to scale up by another 9 million,” Yahia added.

The UN is planning to hold a high-level conference on aid for Afghanistan on Sept. 13 in Geneva, which will be attended by Guterres.

His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said: “The conference will advocate for a swift scale-up in funding so the lifesaving humanitarian operation can continue; and appeal for full and unimpeded humanitarian access to make sure Afghans continue to get the essential services they need.”

On Friday, according to the Emirates News Agency, the UAE sent a plane carrying urgent medical and food aid to Afghanistan, and a Qatar foreign ministry official said Doha was working to facilitate the opening of humanitarian corridors. The US has also resumed funding for humanitarian aid programs that were halted after the Taliban took control of Kabul.


Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
Updated 24 October 2021

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
  • The seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region this last week

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military launched an air strike on a rebel-held facility in Tigray’s west on Sunday, a government official said, the seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region in a week.

“Today the western front of (Mai Tsebri) which was serving as a training and military command post for the terrorist group TPLF has been the target of an air strike,” government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been locked in a war against the TPLF since last November, though Tigray itself had seen little combat since late June, when the rebels seized control of much of Ethiopia’s northernmost region and the military largely withdrew.

But on Monday Ethiopia’s air force launched two strikes on Tigray’s capital Mekele that the UN said killed three children and wounded several other people.

Since then there have been three more strikes on Mekele and another targeting what the government described as a weapons cache in the town of Agbe, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the west.

The strikes coincide with ramped-up fighting in Amhara region, south of Tigray.

They have drawn rebukes from Western powers, with the US last week condemning “the continuing escalation of violence, putting civilians in harm’s way.”

A strike Friday on Mekele forced a UN flight carrying 11 humanitarian personnel to turn back to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and the UN subsequently announced it was suspending its twice-weekly flights to the region.

The conflict has spurred fears of widespread starvation, as the UN estimates it has pushed 400,000 people in Tigray into famine-like conditions.


Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
Updated 24 October 2021

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
  • Pakistan government had agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader
  • The head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak party was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad

LAHORE: A radical Islamist party agreed Sunday to suspend for three days its march of thousands toward the capital Islamabad after Pakistan agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader.
Party supporters Saturday departed the eastern city of Lahore, clashing for a second straight day with police who lobbed tear gas into the crowd. The group began its journey a day earlier with the goal of reaching Islamabad to pressure the government to release Saad Rizvi, head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party. Rizvi was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
Raja Basharat, provincial law minister, told The Associated Press that under the agreement Punjab will withdraw charges against Rizvi and release all those detained during the protest march by Tuesday.
Rizvi had been detained pre-emptively on a charge of inciting people to assemble unlawfully. It was unclear when he would be released.
Basharat also said the agreement stipulates that the federal government will honor a previous agreement with the TLP to address diplomatic ties with France over the publication of the caricatures.
Sajid Saifi, spokesman for Rizvi’s party, confirmed the minister’s account and said thousands of party supporters will stay in the town of Mureedke waiting for the release of party leaders and members who have been detained.
Pakistan Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters that the TLP's demand that the French ambassador to Pakistan be expelled over the caricatures would be taken to a parliamentary committee in the coming days.
Basharat, Ahmed and Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri took part in the talks with the TLP executive council.
Violent clashes erupted between security forces and the Islamists in Lahore killing at least two police and injuring about a dozen, police said. Saifi claimed four party supporters were killed by police fire and “many” others were injured. Police said the demonstrators torched several police vehicles there.
Ahmed said the government was unaware of any deaths of TLP supporters.
Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It has a history of staging violent protests to pressure the government to accept its demands.


President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’
Updated 24 October 2021

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’
  • ‘It seems to be a terrorist act but we shall get the perpetrators’

KAMPALA:  Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Sunday that an explosion in the capital Kampala that killed one and injured five was “a terrorist act” and vowed to hunt down those responsible.

“It seems to be a terrorist act but we shall get the perpetrators,” Museveni said in a Twitter post about the explosion late Saturday in northern Kampala.

Police said the “serious blast” occurred at around 9:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) at a popular street side restaurant strip in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb.

Museveni said he had been briefed that three people “left a package” at the scene that later exploded, killing one person and injuring five others.

He said investigators were still combing the bomb site and more details would be released later, including advice for the public in “dealing with these possible terrorists.”

“The public should not fear, we shall defeat this criminality like we have defeated all the other criminality committed by the pigs who don’t respect life,” Museveni said.


Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
Updated 24 October 2021

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
  • Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2

TAIPEI: A strong earthquake struck northeastern Taiwan on Sunday, with residents reporting violent shaking in the capital Taipei but there were no immediate reports of widespread damage.
Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2.
It hit northeastern Yilan county at 1:11 p.m. (0511 GMT) at a depth of 67 kilometers (42 miles).
An AFP reporter who lives in Yilan said the shaking seemed to last some 30 seconds.
“The walls of the house were shaking, both sideways and up and down, it felt quite strong,” the reporter said.
There was no damage in his neighborhood.
The main quake was followed by a 5.4-magnitude aftershock and Taipei’s MRT metro system shut down as a precaution for a little under an hour before service resumed.
Tom Parker, a British illustrator who lives in Taipei, said he was riding the subway when the quake hit.
“First time I’ve felt a quake on the MRT. Like a tame rollercoaster,” he tweeted, adding he and other commuters were told to shelter in place in the station for now.
Many others reported the tremor on social media.
“I was scared to death, I screamed in my room,” Yu Ting wrote on Facebook.
“This earthquake is really big, glass has shattered in my living room.”
Some grocery stores reported food and other goods were thrown from shelves by the shaking.
Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.
Some earthquakes of this magnitude can prove deadly, although much depends on where the quake strikes and at what depth.
Hualien, a scenic tourist hotspot, was struck by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in 2018 that killed 17 people and injured nearly 300.
In September 1999, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.
However, a 6.2 earthquake struck in December 2020 in Yilan with no major damage or injuries reported.


Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
Updated 24 October 2021

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
  • Junta says it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the ASEAN
  • Myanmar leadership accuses ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference

Myanmar’s military rulers pledged on Sunday to cooperate “as much as possible” with a peace plan agreed with ASEAN, despite a stern rebuke of the regional bloc for excluding the country’s top commander from a summit this week.
In an announcement in state media on Sunday, the junta said it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in following a five-point “consensus” agreed in April, a plan backed by the West and China.
ASEAN foreign ministers decided on Oct. 15 to sideline Min Aung Hlaing, leader of a Feb. 1 Myanmar coup, for his failure to implement that plan, which included ending hostilities, initiating dialogue, allowing humanitarian support and granting a special envoy full access in the country.
The junta struck back late on Friday, accusing ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference. It refused to agree to send a politically neutral Myanmar representative instead of Min Aung Hlaing.
ASEAN chair Brunei has not responded to Myanmar’s rejection.
A spokesman for Thailand’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Saturday, citing the sensitivity of the matter, while Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah, said ASEAN’s consensus on who would represent Myanmar at the summit was the “common guide for all ASEAN members.”
The exclusion is an unprecedented snub from a bloc long criticized for being tardy and ineffective at dealing with member governments accused of atrocities.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in a post-coup crackdown in Myanmar, with thousands more detained, many tortured or beaten, according to the United Nations, citing activists. The junta is accused of using excessive military force against civilian populations.
The junta has insisted many of those killed or detained were “terrorists” determined to destabilize the country. The junta chief last week said opposition forces were prolonging the unrest.
ASEAN’s special envoy, Erywan Yusof of Brunei, had sought a meeting with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military government said that was impossible because she was detained and charged with crimes.
The junta warned Erywan not to engage with opposition forces it has outlawed, including the shadow National Unity Government, an alliance of pro-democracy and armed ethnic groups, Japanese broadcaster NHK said, citing an unpublished report.
A Myanmar military spokesman and Erywan’s office did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment on Sunday on the reported warning.
In Sunday’s announcement, Myanmar’s rulers first reaffirmed their own five-point plan for restoring democracy, which they announced after the coup.
The military insists it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and its takeover was not a coup, but a necessary and lawful intervention against a threat to sovereignty posed by Suu Kyi’s party, which it said won a fraudulent election last year.