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UN warns of looming food crisis in Afghanistan


Afghanistan updates

The UN has warned that its food stocks in Afghanistan could run out by the end of the month, as the country braces for a looming economic meltdown and humanitarian crisis in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure of power.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said most children younger than five faced severe malnutrition, while a third of the population was already going hungry. The international body warned that millions of Afghans were in danger of starvation.

“More than half of Afghan children do not know whether they’ll have a meal tonight or not,” Alakbarov said at a news briefing on Wednesday. “That’s the reality of the situation we’re facing on the ground.”

He said that the UN’s World Food Programme stocks would run out by the end of September without $200m in emergency funding.

The US withdrew its remaining forces this week, bringing the 20-year war to an end and handing control of the country to the Islamists.

Afghanistan’s economy, which depends on foreign aid, suffered a severe shock after the Taliban toppled the western-backed government last month.

Most foreign support came to an abrupt end with the Islamists’ takeover. The US and international institutions such as the World Bank cut off aid, while the Taliban has been unable to access about $9bn in foreign currency reserves held overseas.

The Taliban has yet to form a government or consolidate its control over the country, leaving vital state institutions in limbo.

More than half of the population depends on foreign aid for their daily needs, the UN said, and domestic food stocks were already seriously depleted by a drought that has affected supplies of critical crops such as wheat.

Prices for essentials such as flour have soared as the currency weakened sharply, prompting fears of runaway inflation. Many Afghans remain unable to withdraw cash because banks have closed.

Fitch Solutions said it expected Afghanistan’s gross domestic product to contract 9.7 per cent in the financial year ending March.

Talks to form a new Taliban-led government are continuing. The Islamists, who in the 1990s ran a repressive regime that barred women from education and work, are under pressure from global powers to form a more moderate, inclusive government.

The result could be an administration that includes non-Taliban representatives and disavows some of the movement’s more extreme practices, paving the way for international co-operation and the resumption of foreign aid.

But analysts said such an outcome would be difficult to achieve.

“It is unclear whether the Taliban will reinstate its pre-2001 ultra-conservative ways on Afghan society, but considerable backsliding, especially in terms of women’s rights, is likely,” Fitch wrote in a note on Thursday.

“If women’s rights and other human rights are not respected to the satisfaction of the international community, then the Taliban-ruled state will most likely be subject to international sanctions and foreign aid will remain tough to obtain.”

The Taliban is also facing domestic resistance to its rule.

Clashes in the Panjshir valley, an opposition stronghold north of Kabul, continued this week. Isis-K, an affiliate of the global terrorist group and rival of the Taliban, carried out a terrorist attack last week on Kabul’s airport that killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 US troops.

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