KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations warned on Friday of a looming food aid shortage in Afghanistan that could leave more than 7 million people hungry unless it received urgent cash donations of over $250 million to buy more supplies.
Most of those who will go short of food are women and children, but overall those at risk make up nearly a quarter of the country’s population of around 30 million, said the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP).
Only half of the stockpiles needed for this year were assured, WFP said, with wheat supplies set to start disappearing around June as the hotter months begin. Fighting in the country’s worsening insurgency typically intensifies in the summer months as well, complicating access to food.
“We are making this appeal to give us the best possible chance of plugging the looming gaps in supply,” said WFP Afghanistan director Louis Imbleau in a statement.
Wheat is the main staple crop and Afghanistan needs about 5.2 million tons a year to meet demand in a country where two in three people do not get enough food to meet their nutritional needs.
The country’s government earlier this year said it could face a shortfall of 1.2 million tons of wheat and could be forced to look to world markets to help plug the gap.
WFP said supplies of vegetable oil and pulses would start to run short in July and August, and without additional funds it would be forced to scale back school feeding programs by half in June, affecting more than a million children.
Shortfalls in specialized nutrition products also forced WFP to reduce the number of children under 5 years old who are getting help from 62,000 a month to around 40,000, Imbleau said.
Because of the security and infrastructure problems in Afghanistan it usually took 2 to 3 months to turn cash donations into food supplies, meaning that without urgent help there would not be enough stores in place for summer, he said.
By August, without swift and robust support from the international community, WFP will have exhausted all remaining commodities and be forced to reduce or suspend some parts of the operation, the WFP said.
Afghanistan, now in its tenth year of conflict since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is ranked as one of the world’s poorest countries for food security, with crops often unusable due to seeding with improvised bombs.