FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL ALERT

No. 318

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

COUNTRY: AFGHANISTAN

DATE: 20 September 2001

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GRAVE FOOD CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN COULD DEEPEN IF CURRENT SITUATION DETERIORATES

An already grave food security situation in Afghanistan due to prolonged drought and continuing civil strife is set to deteriorate should the threat of military action materialise. Fresh waves of population displacements currently underway are swelling the ranks of IDPs and refugees, exposing them to extreme hardship. The population movement across the borders would also exert considerable burden on the economies of the neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which have also been affected by prolonged drought and recent severe floods. These countries are already hosting a total of some 3.5 million Afghan refugees. Recent estimates put the number of vulnerable people inside Afghanistan at about 6 million, nearly one-quarter of the population. The number of internally displaced people is expected to reach one million in the coming few months.

The evacuation of staff of international aid agencies from the country will have very serious implications for the food security of large numbers of vulnerable people. The emergency relief operations are likely to come to a virtual halt, even though WFP and other humanitarian agencies would rely on their local staff to carry out the operations to the extent possible. Crucial humanitarian programmes such as WFP operated bakeries that feed more than 300 000 vulnerable people in Kabul are likely to be seriously affected. Furthermore, the closure of borders with neighbouring countries, on which Afghanistan as a land-locked country relies heavily for its external trade, and the unwillingness of trucking companies to enter Afghanistan would seriously disrupt food distribution and marketing activities. The fertilizer supplies of the country which are mainly covered by imports from Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Turkmenistan will also be affected resulting in significant reduction in production. These factors would further accentuate the dwindling food supplies and have serious repercussions in the coming harsh winter months. With starvation facing millions of people, the issue of life-saving will pose a serious challenge to the international community in the coming months.

The FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission which visited the country last May had already observed mounting evidence of emerging widespread famine conditions in the country, reflecting substantially reduced food intakes, collapse of the purchasing power, distress sales of livestock, large scale depletion of personal assets, soaring food grain prices, rapidly increasing numbers of destitute people, and ever swelling ranks of refugees and internally displaced persons. This grim situation could easily turn into a grave humanitarian catastrophy with a worsening of current circumstances.

In addition, the current adverse situation coincides with the planting season for the wheat crop (to be harvested in May 2002), which accounts for about 80 percent of total cereal production in the country. With the population largely on the move and likely disruptions of rehabilitation and development programmes, assisted by FAO and other agencies, the area and production of cereals would decline further. Already, as a consequence of severe drought in the last three years and intensifying economic problems, production of cereals has precipitously declined since 1998, notwithstanding a small recovery in 2001, resulting in a dramatic increase in import requirements, covered mainly through food aid (see graph below).

Afghanistan: Cereal Production and Import Requirements 1998-2001

Undisplayed Graphic

Undisplayed Graphic

Compared to 1998, cereal production in Afghanistan dropped to one-half in 2001 and import requirements have increased three-fold in the current marketing year (July-June 2001/2002). Current indications point to the prospect of a more serious food crisis next year than the prevailing grave situation. FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System is closely monitoring the situation and will issue updates as necessary.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG ) for further information if required.
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