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Poverty, Hunger, Climate Change and COVID-19 Threaten Millions in Afghanistan

Photo: OCHA/ Charlotte Cans

Photo: OCHA/ Charlotte Cans

A dire situation is unfolding in Afghanistan this winter as the hunger crisis worsens and COVID-19 continues to spread

The devastating impact of COVID-19 continues to grow exponentially as the pandemic enters its third year, impacting people’s health, livelihoods, and access to basic needs like food. UN OCHA’s 2022 Global Humanitarian Overview anticipates a 17% increase in global humanitarian needs from 2021. And despite decades of progress in alleviating hunger, the number of people facing hunger increased by as many as 161 million in 2020, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, the combined effects of conflict, COVID-19, and climate change, among others, have exacerbated food insecurity and put millions of people at risk of famine, especially women and girls.

In Afghanistan, the situation has deteriorated in recent months as the pandemic, mass displacements, economic collapse, back-to-back droughts, and ongoing hostilities have made it increasingly difficult for people to meet their basic needs, including for food. Amid a harsh winter, nearly 23 million people – more than half the country’s population – are facing extreme levels of hunger according to the United Nations. People in Afghanistan have lost their incomes, jobs are scarce, food prices are soaring, and, in some regions, drought and conflict have forced people to leave their homes. In the country’s northeastern provinces, water levels are dangerously low.

“Drought has destroyed all of our crops. Our biggest fear is that if the hunger continues, our situation will be worse than now,” says Soma, 50.


A woman who was displaced by conflict in the Surkh Rod area. The community received humanitarian assistance in the form of core relief item including items for winter. - OCHA/Charlotte Cans

Most Afghans rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. The country lost 40% of its harvest this year due to drought and the price of food has jumped 10%–20%. In a survey conducted by CARE, women have less access to food, particularly to balanced diets, and are missing one more day of meals each week than men. Pandemic lockdowns restricted day labor work, impacting incomes and people’s ability to purchase food.

Zainab’s husband lost his job as soon as the government announced lockdowns in 2020. The reduced income combined with rising food prices made feeding their family difficult.

“People started hoarding and storing unnecessary amounts of food,” Zainab says. “The first few months were the toughest.”

Zainab and her family are just one example among millions in Afghanistan concerned about eating or earning a living every day. Many families with nothing left are resorting to child marriage.

“The heartbreaking reality is that countless lives will be lost to hunger and freezing temperatures unless urgently needed humanitarian assistance reaches the most vulnerable soon.”

Victor Moses

Based on CARE’s analysis, 100% of IDP and refugee returnee women in Afghanistan reported that households in their community are relying on less expensive and less preferred food. Sixty-three percent reported sending children under 18 to work, and 67% reported reducing expenses on medication, hygiene items, and clothing. Food shortages are felt even more acutely by women, who are most often held responsible for providing and preparing the family’s food, putting them under additional stress.

“I am afraid if our unemployment situation continues, my children will die of hunger,” one Afghan woman said.

of the population of Afghanistan is facing acute hunger

of the population of Afghanistan is facing acute hunger


A CARE survey revealed that 41% of women reported lack of food as one of COVID-19’s key impacts on their lives, compared to 30% of men, reflecting deeply entrenched gender inequalities. In Afghanistan, generally men eat first due to cultural norms, leaving not enough food for women. Additionally, women often act as shock absorbers, taking on more unpaid work, acting as caregivers, and becoming the breadwinners for their households.

Meeting the country’s humanitarian needs will be even more critical due to the increasing number of people fleeing their homes. CARE focuses on education, emergency preparedness, drought response, and assisting displaced communities with emergency cash, water, sanitation and hygiene, and healthcare through mobile health clinics. Additionally, CARE is also focusing its response on protection, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and prevention of gender-based violence.

More funding is urgently needed to support the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. CARE began working in Afghanistan in 1961 and has had continuous operations in the country since 1989, providing humanitarian assistance through strong relationships with local communities. CARE is committed to staying in Afghanistan and continuing our work.

“Access to enough and good quality food is becoming increasingly urgent. Millions of Afghans worry daily about how to feed their children or make a living and our CARE programs play a crucial role in meeting those huge needs,” Moses says.

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