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May 25, 2022, 9:29 a.m. EDT

1.1 million Afghan children could face severe malnutrition

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By Associated Press

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U.N. agencies launched a massive, accelerated aid program after the Taliban takeover, ramping up to a point that they now deliver food assistance to 38% of the population.

The number of people facing acute food insecurity fell slightly from 22.8 million late last year to 19.7 million currently, according to a May report by IPC, a partnership among U.N. and other agencies that assesses food security. From June to November this year, that number is expected to fall a little further, to 18.9 million, IPC said.

But those small reductions “are far from indicating a positive trend,” it warned.

The decrease was low compared to the scale of the aid, it said. Moreover, deteriorating conditions threaten to overwhelm the effort. It pointed to the continued crumbling of the economy, higher food and fuel prices and supply disruptions caused by the Ukraine war, and “unprecedented inflation” in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, lack of funding threatens aid’s reach. The proportion of the population receiving food aid could plummet to only 8% over the next six months because so far only $601 million of the $4.4 billion needed has been received from the world community, the IPC said. Just over $2 billion has been pledged.

Melanie Galvin, chief of UNICEF’s nutrition program in Afghanistan, said the 1.1 million children figure came from the agency’s annual assessment, conducted last fall and based on expected conditions.

“Every year, all the factors connected to malnutrition keep going up,” she told the AP. It just keeps going up and up in terms of a deteriorating situation.

Drought has been the main driver of food insecurity, she said, compounded by growing poverty, lack of access to clean water and to medical care, need for greater vaccination for diseases like measles that hit malnourished children.

The good news is that agencies have access to the entire country now, she said. UNICEF opened around 1,000 treatment sites in remote locations where parents can bring their malnourished children rather than having to trek to larger urban centers.

But an emergency response is not sustainable in the longer term, she said. “We need all these factors in the external environment to improve.”

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