Malnutrition rates in Afghanistan are at record levels, with half the country enduring severe hunger throughout the year, a spokesman for the UN World Food Program said.

The Taliban takeover in August 2021 drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight.

Sanctions on Taliban rulers, halting bank transfers and freezing billions in Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves restricted access to global institutions and the foreign money that supported the country’s aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.

“Half of Afghanistan suffers from severe hunger year-round, regardless of the season, and malnutrition rates are at a record level for Afghanistan,” said Phillipe Kropf, spokesman for the United Nations food agency in Kabul.

«There are 7 million children (under 5 years old) and mothers who are malnourished, in a country with a population of 40 million.»

Afghans are not starving, he said, but they have no resources left to avert the humanitarian crisis.

The Taliban takeover in August 2021 drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight.Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Aid agencies have been providing Afghans with food, education and medical care, including heat, cash for fuel and warm clothing.

But the distribution has been badly affected by a Taliban edict that prohibits women from working in national and international non-governmental groups.

“The ban came at the worst possible time,” Kropf said. “Families and communities don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

WFP scaled up its aid delivery and distribution in anticipation of a harsh winter before the ban came into effect, planning to reach 15 million this month with emergency food assistance and nutrition support.

While not directly affected by the ban, 19 of its non-governmental partners have suspended their operations in Afghanistan following the December 24 edict.

The NGO ban on women workers has seen the suspension of 115 of the 437 mobile health clinics, affecting 82,000 children and pregnant and lactating women.

The suspension of a training project is harming 39,300 people, mostly women, while the pause in a school lunch program has affected 616,000 students.

A mother with her malnourished child waits for help at a World Food Program clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 26, 2023.
Medicine shortages coupled with poverty and lack of food mean that even a small illness can become a big problem for many Afghans.Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

At a nutrition clinic in Kabul, nurse Anisa Samadi, 32, said most children and mothers will die without support from agencies like the WFP and the World Health Organization.

His help is needed now more than ever, he told The Associated Press on Thursday.

“In the last five months I have seen the number of patients increase. Three months ago we had 48 patients. Last month we had 76 and this month so far we have 69 or 70. Mostly we have twins who are very weak, while their mothers are also weak.”

Medicine shortages coupled with poverty and lack of food means that even a small illness can become a big problem for many Afghans, he said.

Her colleague, nutrition consultant Sheba Hussanzada, 30, said children at the clinic receive therapeutic food.

But the children come back with pneumonia, causing unhealthy weight loss.

“Mothers are saying they don’t have firewood or any other way to keep their children warm at home. They don’t have enough food to feed themselves,” she said.

New mother Fereshta, 24, visited the clinic because she did not have enough milk to feed her son. Her husband used to have a job but now there is no job for him.

“Since the Taliban arrived, the economic situation is very bad and people have no food to eat. People don’t have three meals. If there wasn’t such a center to support us, I could lose my son”, said the young mother.

The NGO ban has followed a series of measures restricting the rights and freedoms of women and girls in Afghanistan and has sparked international condemnation and weeks of campaigning to have it lifted.

The UN’s highest-ranking woman, Amina Mohammed, said Wednesday she had used everything in her power during meetings with Taliban ministers in Afghanistan to try to reverse their crackdown on women and girls, urging Muslim countries to help the Taliban. move from the “13th to the 21st century”.