Afghan families hit by severe drought could be cut off by extreme winter weather within weeks

By Oxfam

More than two million Afghans are at risk of hunger and many are bracing to be stranded for months without help as the country prepares for a harsh winter, Save the Children and Oxfam warned today.

The organizations called for a redoubling of the aid effort to reach people in need before the onset of heavy snows cut off huge swathes of the country.

Poor rains earlier this year mean families in the 14 drought-affected provinces have not been able to grow enough wheat to feed themselves over the winter.

According to a UN assessment, in some provinces almost 100 percent of the harvest has been destroyed, and food prices have soared, with the price of wheat in some areas doubling on average since this time last year.

Typical Afghan weather patterns mean that those living in mountainous areas – up to half of the affected population – will almost certainly soon be cut off from help as winter closes in.

Families are coping by cutting down their meals, borrowing money and even moving to Iran or Pakistan. Some 90 percent of households in the affected area are now living in debt after borrowing money to buy food, and schools have closed as children are being put out to work.

The organizations said that food, clean water and extra healthcare made available in the next few weeks will be critical as families face the risk of rising rates of disease and malnutrition that will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest.

Delivering this aid has been made difficult as snow begins to fall in parts of Afghanistan, complicating access to areas hit hardest by drought, and the organizations fear that as winter sets in over the next few weeks, the number of people at risk will increase dramatically.

David Skinner, Save the Children’s Afghanistan country director said: “Families are facing being cut off for winter without enough food and clean water. We know children are going hungry, and with malnutrition levels already high in Afghanistan, unless aid efforts are ramped up, children could die because they do not get enough to eat.”

Oxfam’s country director Manohar Shenoy said: “Time is running out to be able to provide communities with the help they most desperately need before a harsh winter makes many areas inaccessible. Snow is already falling and many mountainous areas are likely to be cut off within weeks. Villagers who are used to hardship are telling us that this year the drought has destroyed everything. Their food stocks are already low, and they are worried about how they will get through the coming months.”

The aid organizations have responded to the drought with cash for work projects for those affected, and are stockpiling aid in preparation for a deterioration in the humanitarian situation, as well as working to help people in Afghanistan better prepare for future droughts and other emergencies.

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