Government policy on Afghanistan

Written evidence submitted by the United Nations World Food Programme to the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFG0005)

 

Introduction and WFP in Afghanistan

  1. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disaster, and the impacts of climate change. In recognition of its efforts to combat hunger and contributions towards peace and stability, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.

 

  1. WFP is the largest humanitarian organisation working in Afghanistan, operating there since 1963. WFP has been dealing with the Taliban to secure access and deliver humanitarian aid and has been working in Taliban-controlled areas for decades, assisting vulnerable households and communities directly. WFP engages with all parties, guided by the humanitarian principles. WFP is focused on helping local communities in all 34 provinces through our logistics capacity and proven reputation as neutral, impartial, and operationally independent from political or military objectives. As such, WFP is considered a trusted partner for the UK Government in supporting the most vulnerable Afghans.

 

Country context and recommendations

  1. For more than four decades Afghanistan has experienced complex and protracted conflict combined with challenges such as climate change and natural disasters, demographic shifts, limited job opportunities, and pervasive gender inequalities, all of which have dramatically constrained the country’s socio-economic development. Afghanistan recorded low levels of economic growth and approximately half of the population was living below the poverty line (2020).

 

  1. The Afghan economy is dependent on agriculture, from which 60 percent of households derive at least some income. In 2021, Afghanistan experienced its second drought in three years, with the early part of the year recording half the normal rainfall. Consequently, Afghanistan lacks 40 percent of the wheat it needs for 2021. WFP pre-lean season assessments showed that 3 in 4 households were earning less income as food prices hit historically high levels.

 

  1. Afghanistan is one of the largest recipients of UK bilateral ODA in Asia. Since 2001, the UK has provided GBP 3.5 billion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Afghanistan, which has contributed to significant gains, notably for women and girls.

 

  1. The dramatic changes in Afghanistan’s political, social, and economic circumstances since the withdrawal of foreign forces, fall of the Afghan government and takeover by the Taliban have accelerated the humanitarian crisis that was affecting half of Afghans prior to August. At this point, humanitarian support to save lives and protect livelihoods from further erosion is essential.  WFP is grateful to the UK Government for its recent pledge of GBP 20m for WFP in Afghanistan. This contribution will help WFP in reaching our funding requirement of USD 200 million by the end of 2021. Given the precipitous rise in need, we expect that more than US 1 billion will be required for 2022.

 

  1. In order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, WFP recommends the following actions to the UK Government:

 

      Humanitarian support: Humanitarian funding is urgently needed to preposition food at strategic locations ahead of the brutal winter months; in this lean period, household food reserves are most likely to run out entirely. WFP hopes that the UK Government will work with international partners to convert pledges to confirmed contributions so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be expedited in Afghanistan. As G7 President, the UK is well-placed to lead the international community in addressing the humanitarian situation.

 

      Leverage influence with international financial institutions (IFIs): The UK Government is well-positioned to influence IFIs to assess how suspended funding lines can be repurposed and channelled into activities to stem the economic and social catastrophe unfolding as a result of the lack of liquidity and government finance. As an interim measure, this would help stabilise the economy and avoid millions more Afghans being driven to starvation or migration.

 

      Support for existing programmes: When disbursing the UK’s pledge of GBP 286 million, the UK’s funding is best directed to existing programmes in Afghanistan so as to support Afghans before they are forced to leave their homes in search of help. WFP appreciates the UK government’s forward planning in the event of significant refugee outflows to neighbouring countries including Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan, and welcomes the commitment to support current programmes for host communities in border areas.

 

      Unconditional humanitarian access: WFP’s work is guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and operational independence. WFP would welcome the UK Government’s continued advocacy for the humanitarian response to continue in accordance with these long-standing humanitarian principles, and to ensure that the Taliban fulfils its commitment to respect these principles.

 

      Protection of female humanitarian workers: All humanitarian workers must be able to work and travel for humanitarian agencies to scale up and respond to urgent needs. This includes women. WFP would welcome the UK Government’s support to impress upon the Taliban the critical role that female humanitarian staff play, and their need to work in safety and security.

 

      Visas for Afghan humanitarian workers: A number of Afghan staff working for WFP, other UN agencies and INGOs have expressed a need to relocate with their families. To this end, WFP asks that the UK help ensure that there are safe and legal passages for Afghan humanitarian workers to relocate their families out of harm’s way.

 

Humanitarian implications of the Taliban takeover

Humanitarian situation

  1. An estimated 14 million people in Afghanistan are facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity according to the IPC – 35 percent of the population. More than half of all children under five are at risk of malnutrition. According to WFP surveys, 95 percent of households do not have enough food, marking an increase of 15 percent between July and the end of August. Worryingly, 50 percent of respondents reported running out of food completely at least once in a period of two weeks (20 September 2021). For the first time, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, who have been ravaged by drought twice in the past three years.

 

  1. Almost no one has enough money to buy food. Three out of four households now limit portion sizes, with adults eating less so their children can eat more. Households headed by women are skipping meals and reducing their portions far more than those headed by men. Three out of four households are borrowing food or consuming cheaper food. These trends are likely to continue in the weeks to come as more jobs are lost, salaries go unpaid, and the cash liquidity crisis bites harder.

 

  1. With winter fast approaching, it is imperative that food is prepositioned at strategic locations. Once the snow sets in, communities will be completely cut off and WFP food assistance will be their only lifeline.

 

  1. Should food become more scarce inside Afghanistan, more people are likely to leave their homes in search of help. While UN agencies have plans to respond if people do begin to cross borders, the most urgent step that donors must take is to fund existing programmes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Iran.

 

Impacts of the economic crisis on the humanitarian situation

  1. Afghanistan’s economic system is close to collapse. Prior to the Taliban takeover, 42.9 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP came from international assistance (World Bank, 2020). Since the fall of the Afghan government, international financial institutions (IFIs) have suspended or cut financial assistance to Afghanistan, the Afghani is at an all-time low, and the price of everyday items has surged. The economic fallout has serious and long-lasting implications for the entire population, especially the most vulnerable. The paralysis of the formal banking system is threatening the most basic services such as health, water, sanitation, driving humanitarian needs further.

 

  1. Work opportunities continue to shrink; after a decrease of 20 percent in the final week of August 2021, September saw opportunities drop further – most households reported just one day’s work per week. According to WFP surveys, respondents reported their main fears to be job losses (50 percent), food shortages (24 percent), and increased food prices (9 percent). Cash shortages are threatening humanitarian operations, as commercial transporters, millers, and cooperating partners are facing challenges in securing cash to pay staff/drivers and procure raw materials. Dealing with the liquidity crisis and preventing the banking sector from collapse is critical to the humanitarian response and to stemming humanitarian needs.

 

 

WFP response

  1. WFP has now reached 9 million people with food and nutrition assistance in 2021 across all 34 provinces. WFP continued to deliver throughout August and September despite significant challenges, reaching 4 million people in September – triple the number reached in August. WFP aims to assist 14 million people (IPC Phase 3-4) with 190,000 mt of food by the end of 2021.

 

  1. In anticipation of higher food needs and further disruptions to supply chains, WFP is positioning food and other stocks at strategic border points in Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. WFP helps to stabilise the local economy by purchasing more than 60 percent of its food from within Afghanistan, strengthening local capacity to produce food and to get it into markets.

 

  1. The WFP-led UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights from Pakistan to Afghanistan resumed on 29 August, enabling humanitarian workers to get where they are needed most. Flights to Kabul recommenced on 12 September, after a halt following the Taliban takeover on 15 August. Daily flights now connect Islamabad to Kabul, Bamyan, Herat, Kandahar, Kunduz, Maymana, and Mazar, serving the entire humanitarian community of 160 organisations. WFP also established a cargo airbridge to transport non-food items, such as medical and other emergency supplies. We have recently brought in medical supplies on behalf of WHO. These common services are vital to the humanitarian response in Afghanistan and must be adequately funded.

 

WFP support for women and girls

  1. Since 2001, UK aid has enabled notable improvements for women and girls in Afghanistan. In the new reality, UK development spending and diplomacy should be leveraged to support women and girls, including through humanitarian channels.

 

  1. WFP applies a gender equality and women’s empowerment lens to all its programmes and will be ensuring that this continues. WFP is continuing to implement women-centred nutrition programmes which provide targeted nutrition assistance to pregnant and lactating women (PLW) and young children. In 2021, WFP initiated a mobile health and nutrition service to provide essential health and nutrition services to reach more PLW and children. The mobile health services travel to areas where fewer women attend health clinics, responding to the challenges and safety concerns experienced by some women in accessing essential nutrition. WFP has deployed an additional 34 mobile health teams since the beginning of August, expanding the service to a total of 117 teams across Afghanistan; in collaboration with UNICEF 100 more will be added. In the last week of September, WFP assisted 17,088 PLW and 22,833 malnourished children.

 

  1. WFP is also continuing to implement school feeding programmes, which encourage and increase enrolment, attendance, and retention, with a particular focus on girls’ education. In September 2021, WFP reached 86,668 school children through its school feeding programme. WFP also runs institutional feeding programmes in community-run kindergartens for girls and boys and female caregivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 2021

 

 

 

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