Food crisis worsens in north Afghanistan

The number of severely malnourished children in the province of Faryab on the rise.
Mazar-I-Shariff / Brussels, January 18, 2002 - A recent MSF survey in Karai valley, Faryab province, shows that one out of seven children is malnourished. The nutritional screening of 2,706 children resulted in figures of 4.5 % of severe (footnote 1) and 10.4 % of moderate (footnote 2) acute malnutrition. At the same time, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has seen 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 in August already showed a global malnutrition rate of 10%. Since then the situation has only worsened. A separate recent survey showed that the mortality rate has doubled. It also found that, on average, families only have wheat left for another five days and that only 23% of the families received food during the last distribution. The humanitarian situation in remote areas is rapidly worsening since the quality 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 Programme (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-Head of Mission in Mazar-I-Shariff. "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 are severely affected by drought. Particularly in the remote mountainous regions, where agriculture is depending on rain fall and numerous cattle died, the population has reached the end of its coping mechanisms and survives mainly on bread and tea. The region saw a scurvy outbreak last winter.(footnote 3) 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. Due to 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 (footnote 4) 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 organisation stresses though that even with an increase of MSF programs a blanket feeding program cannot replace a proper general food distribution. Footnotes: 1/ should be admitted in therapeutic feeding programs for intensive, medically observed feeding 2/ should be admitted in supplementary feeding centers where they receive a regular food ration to take home 3/ scurvy is caused by a lack of vit C and characterized by black discoloration of the legs and gum bleeding. 4/ food will be distributed to all young children and their families