Current issues and what the World Food Programme is doing
Afghanistan faces significant recovery needs after decades of war, civil unrest and recurring natural disasters. Despite recent progress, millions of Afghans still live in severe poverty with a crumbling infrastructure and a landscape that is suffering from environmental damage.
Afghanistan’s population of 28.6 million has been striving to re-establish political, economic and security frameworks conducive to development. A severe slowdown in economic growth between 2011 and 2014 contributed to the fact about 39 percent of Afghans live below the poverty line, with vast differences in living standards between city-dwellers and those in the countryside where two-thirds of the population resides.
Unemployment increased to 22 percent between 2013 and 2014. Issues of gender-based violence, access to health care, education and food security persist.
What are the current issues in Afghanistan?
About 33 percent of the total population – some 9.3 million people - are food insecure, according to the 2014 Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey (ALCS2014). Among them, an estimated 3.4 million (12 percent) are severely food insecure, and 5.9 million (21 percent) are moderately food insecure.
Physical insecurity is a major and growing concern. Insurgent activity and military operations have affected food security in some regions, especially in areas prone to natural disasters and high food insecurity. This has also undermined reconstruction efforts and restricted humanitarian interventions.
Conflict, uncontrolled grazing, pastureland encroachment, illegal logging and the loss of forest and grass cover have worsened drought conditions and reduced agricultural productivity. Years of environmental degradation in the country combined with its natural landscape make Afghanistan highly vulnerable to intense and recurring natural hazards such as flooding, earthquakes, avalanches, landslides, and droughts.
Disasters and climate shocks affect 250,000 Afghans annually. An estimated 235,000 people affected by natural disasters and nearly 750,000 conflict-affected people will require humanitarian food assistance in 2016. Levels of food insecurity and undernutrition remain persistently high in Afghanistan. One of the ten countries in the world with the highest burden of undernourished children, it is affected by some of the highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates in the world.
Many thousands of children die needlessly each year because they lack access to adequate food and nutrition. A 2013 National Nutrition Survey showed that 41 percent of the country’s children aged under five years are chronically malnourished (stunted), 10 percent are acutely malnourished (a condition known as wasting) and 25 percent are underweight. Micronutrient deficiencies are widespread: approximately 45 percent of children 6-59 months old and 40 percent of reproductive-aged women (15 to 49 years) are anaemic, Average life expectancy at birth is 62 years; adult literacy stands at just 31.4 percent.
World Food Programme’s work in Afghanistan
WFP has been working in Afghanistan since 1963 and addresses nutritional, educational and environmental deficiencies, as well as providing livelihood opportunities to a food-insecure population. Active in all 34 provinces, WFP has shifted its focus in recent years from emergency assistance to rehabilitation and recovery.
WFP assisted more than 3.6 million people in 2015, primarily in remote, food-insecure rural areas. WFP’s food assistance focuses on poor and vulnerable families, schoolchildren, illiterate people, returning refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and disabled people – with an emphasis on vulnerable women and girls.
The school meals programme, including take-home rations, aims to help the government improve the gender gap, the enrolment rate and students’ attendance levels. In 2015, WFP gave more than 260,000 students a take-home ration of vegetable oil as an incentive for their families to send them to school.
Meanwhile, food for training helps vulnerable people acquire new, marketable skills so they can earn a better living. In 2015, WFP provided more than 10,000 people – mostly women – with food rations and electronic vouchers to support their families while participants attended classes in literacy, handicraft production, carpentry, plumbing skills, reproductive health or childcare.
Under its disaster risk reduction activities, WFP continues to support resilience at the community level by rehabilitation of key infrastructure, including roads, canals, flood protection walls and terracing. In 2015, more than 475,000 people received WFP food assistance through its assets creation activities.
WFP nutrition activities focus on the first 1,000 days of life to address undernutrition among the most vulnerable: young children, pregnant women, and new mothers. This helps women survive pregnancy, helps their infants and young children survive childhood, and helps to prevent the life-long consequences of poor nutrition during the critical early years of life. To enhance its nutritional impact, WFP provides fortified wheat flour, instead of wheat grain, in all its food assistance activities. This fortification delivers vital minerals and vitamins that contribute to an improved nutritional status for all WFP beneficiaries.
In 2015, WFP reached almost 184,000 acutely malnourished pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, and more than 144,000 children aged under five with moderate acute malnutrition. Families of the malnourished women also benefitted through additional household food rations.
Purchase for Progress
Through its Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative, WFP works with local farmers to boost soybean production, and with the Ministry of Health to establish food quality and safety standards. Under P4P, WFP supports national flour fortification programmes, including provision for private millers of micronutrients and training to fortify flour for commercial sale. WFP also supports and promotes soya production and fortification.
WFP supports the Government of Afghanistan in building Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs) to hold emergency food supplies of 200,000 tons to assist approximately two million people for up to six months. The construction of its first SGR facility with the capacity of 22,000 tons in Kabul was completed in August 2013. The second stage will involve the Government of Afghanistan, FAO, and the World Bank in the construction of medium sized bagged storage facilities at four locations in Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar, and Pul-i-Khumri.
With road travel representing a real danger for humanitarian staff in many parts of the country, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services UNHAS expanded its operations in 2016 to more destinations with a fleet of four aircraft.
Featured Afghanistan publications
A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.
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