By Charlotte Greenfield
(Reuters) – The UN World Food Program (WFP) was forced to cut rations for a further 2 million Afghans this month and warns of a ‘catastrophic’ winter if funding runs out and food for remote communities is scarce, the agency’s country director said . .
The ration cuts come amid mounting concerns over dwindling aid to Afghanistan, where a UN humanitarian response plan is only about a quarter funded, even after the budget was slashed due to funding shortfalls.
WFP funding for food and cash aid is expected to run out by the end of October, and the agency has had to steadily scale back aid to 10 million Afghans over the year.
The positioning of food in areas that will be closed in winter is also limited. The WFP said that if funding is not forthcoming, 90% of remote areas in need will be cut off without food and even in accessible locations, people will not get supplies during the harsh weather.
“That is the catastrophe we must avert,” Hsiao-Wei Lee, country director of WFP Afghanistan, told Reuters.
About three-quarters of Afghanistan’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance as their country recovers from decades of conflict under an internationally isolated Taliban government that took power when US-backed foreign forces withdrew in 2021.
Development aid, which has formed the backbone of government finances for years, is being cut, the government is subject to sanctions and the assets of central banks abroad are frozen.
The Taliban’s restrictions on women, including stopping most female Afghan humanitarian workers from working, have been an obstacle to formal recognition and have also deterred donors, many of whom have turned their attention to other humanitarian crises.
“What I do in my dealings with them is remind them that ultimately we need to focus on those who are most in need,” Lee said of donors.
“The cost of doing nothing is ultimately borne and paid for by the most vulnerable and poor mothers and children.”
Nearly 20% of the people WFP helps are women who lead households. Lee said they became increasingly desperate as restrictions on women and the economic crisis left them with fewer ways to make money.
“WFP is often the last lifeline for those who have no other options,” Lee said.
“It is extremely difficult, not only for myself, but also for our team to explain to mothers that we cannot help them.”
Three million people are now receiving food aid, but they may not receive anything after October.
The WFP needs $1 billion in funding to deliver food aid and carry out planned projects through March, Lee said.
For Baba Karim, a 45-year-old resident of Kabul, the money he has received from WFP twice this year has been an essential addition to the less than $2 a day he earns doing odd jobs in a market with a push cart. .
“I am so worried about what will happen next now that the aid has ended,” says the father of five.
“I lie awake at night worrying about my children’s future.”
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield, additional reporting by Reuters TV; editing by Robert Birsel)