25 October 2001



A deepening food crisis in Afghanistan, which poses a serious threat of mass starvation, comes at a time when the food supply position in the neighbouring countries is also seriously undermined by a prolonged drought. This year's food production in Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan has suffered a significant reduction due to serious drought. The unfavourable food supply situation, which has prompted emergency food assistance in some of these countries, therefore gives little comfort to millions of displaced and resident Afghans who in the past could meet part of their food needs with supplies from neighbouring countries. Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been supporting millions of refugees from past conflicts but their capacity to cope with the new arrivals is seriously compromised due to insufficient resources.

Even before the events of 11 September, Afghanistan was gripped by a grave food crisis following three consecutive years of drought and intensifying economic problems due to continuing civil conflict. An FAO/WFP mission to the country last May found evidence of emerging and widespread famine conditions in many parts of the country, where people had exhausted their coping strategies by selling their assets and migrating in search of food elsewhere within or outside the country. The military operations since 7 October have triggered fresh waves of population displacement, aggravating the already dire humanitarian situation.

While the majority of the around 23 million Afghans are facing severe food supply difficulties, some 7.5 million most affected people are in desperate need of food aid. WFP plans to deliver 52 000 tonnes of food aid per month to feed the most vulnerable people, both refugees (1.5 million) and resident population (6 million) in Afghanistan. However, transport and distribution difficulties are hampering the delivery of the required volumes. Some of the food would have to be airlifted to inaccessible areas of the country, in particular the central highlands before the onset of harsh winter in mid-November.

The current adverse situation coincides with the planting season for wheat which accounts for 80 percent of the country's total cereal production. With the population largely on the move, serious shortages of inputs and a disruption of farming activities by military operations, cereal production in 2001 to meet consumption needs duriing 2001/02 (July/June) is set to decline significantly. This would further aggravate the already grave food supply situation in the country.

A decade-long destructive war with the Soviet Union and the subsequent civil strife for nearly 13 years have devastated infrastructure in agriculture and other sectors of Afghanistan's economy. The irrigation systems are in complete ruin, while agricultural services are virtually non-existent and farmers have little access to necessary agricultural input supplies. Thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land have been taken out of production due mainly to lack of irrigation and the presence of millions of land mines. Many communities have been cut off from the rest of the country due to the destruction of roads, bridges and other communication facilities. Fruit trees and forests, once a major source of foreign exchange, have virtually disappeared. Livestock production, another major export item and source of food as well as farm power, has been severely reduced. During the past three years, the country has witnessed a devastating drought which compounded the impact of years of conflict and brought a large section of the population to the brink of starvation. The 2001 cereal output, estimated at about 2 million tonnes, is about one-half of the production in 1998.

As a result of reduced output in 2001, cereal import requirements in the current marketing year (July-June 2001/02) were forecast at a near record volume of some 2.2 million tonnes of which commercial imports were initially projected at 760 000 tonnes. Given the current situation, commercial imports may be only one-third of the earlier estimated volume. Assuming that all of the planned emergency food aid of 494 000 tonnes be delivered by June 2002, the overall deficit in 2001/02 (July/June) is still likely to be of the order of 1.5 million tonnes of cereals. Only a massive mobilization of food and other relief assistance and its distribution, particularly to the vulnerable groups, will avert the threat of an impending mass starvation in the country.

When the conflict is finally resolved, mid-term agricultural rehabilitation/reconstruction measures in Afghanistan will need to address the reconstruction of irrigation systems, input supply to farmers, farm power, rehabilitation of orchards, livestock and forestry sub-sectors, extension and education and institutional capacity-building. FAO has estimated that some US$200 million would be required for the implementation of a countrywide agricultural sector emergency relief and rehabilitation programme.




An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission that visited the country in May/June 2001 found that rainfall was between 50 and 80 percent below normal in most parts of the country during the last winter cropping season (January-March 2001). Last year's Monsoon rainfall was also more than 40 percent below normal. Consequently, rainfed agriculture and vegetation in the grazing lands were severely affected.

Rainfed wheat production, estimated at about 541 000 tonnes in 2001, was nearly 70 percent below the average of the last five years and 62 percent below last year's reduced crop. However, as about 90 percent of wheat production is irrigated, the overall impact of the drought was not as great. Nevertheless, total wheat production (irrigated and rainfed) in 2001 was estimated at 18.73 million tonnes, still significantly below the 21 million tonnes harvested last year. The 2001 rice crop, planted from May for harvest in October/November, was forecast at a reduced 3.9 million tonnes (milled) due to water shortages in irrigation schemes, compared to 4.8 million tonnes in year 2000 and the average of 4.6 million tonnes for the last five years. With additional coarse grains crop of about 1.9 million tonnes, total cereal production in 2001 is, therefore, estimated at 26.5 million tonnes, 13 percent below last year's harvest.

Overall cereal supplies will be just sufficient to meet the consumption requirements in the 2001/02 marketing year. Domestic consumption and other utilization requirements are expected to be met from current production and a drawdown of large wheat stocks from last year's good crop. Some exports of wheat due to earlier contracts are also forecast. Rice exports are anticipated to be lower than last year's volume of 2 million tonnes. However, the prolonged drought has seriously eroded the food security of a large number of farmers, particularly in Balochistan, parts of Sindh and Cholistan in Punjab.

Moderate to heavy monsoon rains in the last week of June and early July, particularly in the northeastern parts of Punjab and Kashmir, and in the last dekad of July in Potohar, the North-West Frontier Province and other northern areas caused floods which left a number of victims and hundreds of people homeless.

Pakistan hosts some 2 million Afghan refugees from the earlier conflict. However, refugee numbers are on the increase due to recent events.

Islamic Republic of Iran

The disastrous consequences of three consecutive years of drought continue to be felt in all sectors of the economy. A UN inter-agency report released in July estimated that about 90 percent of the population (urban, rural, and nomadic) have been severely affected. The shortage of water in rivers and the rapidly falling water tables have resulted in an acute scarcity of drinking water in both rural and urban areas. Large sections of the rural population and their livestock in the affected provinces have started migrating to other areas in search of water. An estimated 200 000 nomadic livestock owners are reported to have lost their only source of livelihood.

Tentative production figures for 2001 indicate a wheat output of 7.5 million tonnes compared to the past five-year average of 9.7 million tonnes. Production of barley, maize and paddy is also forecast to be below average.

Flash floods on 10 August 2001 hit the northeastern provinces of Golestan, Khorasan and Semnan, with an estimated 1.2 million people affected in Golestan, the most severely affected province. The financial loss in the agriculture sector (including livestock) has been estimated at US$23 million, and about 752 000 hectares of agricultural land were seriously damaged.

The country is supporting more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees from the earlier conflict.


Drought, water shortages, dilapidated irrigation systems and structural problems have worsened the food supply situation this year compared to last year when a large deficit was experienced, with food supplies remaining very tight throughout the year. The two main rivers, Amu and Syr, feeding the extensive irrigation system of the country, have been flowing at about 50 percent of the average levels. Precipitation levels are estimated to be about 60 percent of the average annual levels, in particular during the crucial months of March and April for the wheat crop. Agricultural inputs, particularly quality seeds and fertilizers, are in short supply. Agricultural machinery is also in short supply and inadequate to meet demand. In addition, about 40-50 percent of the water lifting equipment and about 60 percent of the heavy machinery used for canal and drainage maintenance are out of order, which have significantly reduced the efficiency of the irrigation system.

An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission that visited the country between June and July 2001, estimated the total cereal production at 303 000 tonnes compared with 355 000 tonnes in 2000. Wheat output, the main staple crop, is estimated at 233 000 tonnes this year compared to 283 000 tonnes last year and 366 000 tonnes in 1999.

Cereal import requirement (mainly wheat) for 2001/02 marketing year (July/June) is estimated at 788 000 tonnes. After taking into account a projected commercial import capacity of 400 000 tonnes and pledged food aid of 43 000 tonnes, the uncovered deficit is estimated at 345 000 tonnes. A food deficit of this magnitude for an impoverished population, if not addressed, would have dire food security consequences. Due to a similar situation last year and lack of alternative sources of income, many households have exhausted their coping strategies and need emergency food assistance.

WFP has been providing emergency food assistance to 1.6 million people under vulnerable group feeding (910 000 people) and food for asset rehabilitation (250 000 people) programmes since October 2000. The current Emergency Operation is expected to come to an end by December 2001 when a total of 72 468 tonnes of wheat flour, 2 050 tonnes of vegetable oil, 1 200 tonnes of pulses and 700 tonnes of salt would have been distributed.


Severe water shortages and drought two years in succession have significantly impacted crop production. Water flows in the two main sources of irrigation, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers are reported to be about 40 percent of the average flows, while record hot and dry weather conditions have increased demand for irrigation water. In addition, the available scarce water is reported to be contaminated with high levels of salinity.

This year's total grain output is not expected to exceed 3.4 million tonnes, about 500 000 tonnes less than the poor harvest of last year and about one million tonnes less than in 1999 when production was considered average. Wheat production is estimated at 3.2 million tonnes and rice at 100 000 tonnes, which compares with 1999 production levels of 3.6 million tonnes of wheat and 421 000 tonnes of rice. The worst affected areas are Karakalpakstan and Khorzam autonomous regions, where the spring-sown area and output have fallen by half. Cotton, the main export crop, is forecast to fall far short of the official target output of 3.9 million tonnes (cottonseed).

The import requirement in 2001/02 is tentatively estimated at about 0.9 million tonnes, roughly 293 000 tonnes higher than the preceding year's imports. The Government has appealed for international assistance in the rehabilitation of the irrigation systems, desalinisation equipment and targeted food aid in some areas. UNOCHA estimates that nearly 600 000 people particularly in Karakalpakstan and Khorzam may face food shortages unless assisted. An FAO/WFP mission in October 2000 found that 45 000 people in Karakalpakstan alone had experienced severe food shortages.


Drought and irrigation water shortages for two years in succession have affected crop production. Reservoirs fed by the Amu Darya, providing nearly 90 percent of the country's irrigation needs, have been significantly lower than the previous year, while the Murghab river supplying irrigation water to Mary province has been virtually dry for most part of the cropping season this year.

FAO tentatively forecasts grain output at about 1.5 million tonnes, similar to its estimates of 2000, including 1.4 million tonnes of wheat, 50 000 tonnes of barley, 20 000 tonnes of maize and 20 000 tonnes of rice. Grain production levels were maintained due to some increase in area under wheat. The worst affected areas are once again Mary province (bordering the Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan) and Dashagouz (bordering Karaklpakstan region of Uzbekistan). The cereal import requirement for 2001/02 is estimated at about 40 000 tonnes. Despite preliminary reports of food shortages and concerns over the tight food supply situation in the country, the Government has not appealed for any international assistance.

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, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

The Special Alerts/Reports can also be received automatically by E-mail as soon as they are published, by subscribing to the GIEWS/Alerts report ListServ. To do so, please send an E-mail to the FAO-Mail-Server at the following address: mailserv@mailserv.fao.org, leaving the subject blank, with the following message:

subscribe GIEWSAlertsWorld-L
To be deleted from the list, send the message:
unsubscribe GIEWSAlertsWorld-L

Please note that it now possible to subscribe to regional lists to only receive Special Reports/Alerts by region: Africa, Asia, Europe or Latin America (GIEWSAlertsAfrica-L, GIEWSAlertsAsia-L, GIEWSAlertsEurope-L and GIEWSAlertsLA-L). These lists can be subscribed to in the same way as the worldwide list.

back to the table of contentsBack to menu