Flash floods strike Afghanistan ‘hunger hotspots’ – Voice of America – VOA News

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U.N. agencies are banding together in coordination with Afghanistan’s de facto Taliban rulers to aid hundreds of thousands of survivors of devastating flash floods that struck northeastern Afghanistan Friday.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, reported Monday that search and rescue operations continue. It said that 14 U.N. teams have been deployed to jointly assess the damage and needs, and that humanitarian partners “have identified available emergency stocks in the region.”

Speaking to journalists in Geneva from Kabul Tuesday, World Food Program official Timothy Anderson stressed the critical need to provide emergency food aid in the worst-affected areas, which were already facing multiple crises.

“There has been widespread destruction, death and injury in areas where people are least able to absorb shocks,” said Anderson, the WFP’s head of program in Afghanistan. “On our current information, about 540 people are dead and injured, around 3,000 houses fully or partially destroyed, 10,000 acres of orchards destroyed, and 2,000 livestock killed.

“Many of those who have survived have nothing left, no homes to return to and no food,” he said, adding that the full impact of this disaster will not be known until U.N. personnel are able to reach currently inaccessible areas.

“We are taking food via donkeys, as that is the only way we can reach some of these districts. … So far, WFP provided the survivors with emergency food assistance, and we are planning to distribute blanket cash assistance in the coming days, which is enough to cover their basic needs for a month,” he said.

People receive food after heavy flooding in Baghlan province, Afghanistan, on May 12, 2024.

People receive food after heavy flooding in Baghlan province, Afghanistan, on May 12, 2024.

WFP reports that two of the hardest-hit areas, Baghlan and Badakhshan, are in so-called “hunger hotspots” — areas where the seasonal harvest has been destroyed and little food is available.

“These communities will still need food assistance over the summer just to survive,” Anderson said. “Our staff on the ground tell me everyone they speak to is worried less about the homes they lost and more about their destroyed agricultural land. As subsistence farmers, it is their sole source of livelihood — and already marginal to meet their basic needs.”

UNICEF reports 3.2 million Afghan children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition, a figure that “is set to climb.” UNICEF says undernutrition is responsible for nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 as it puts them at greater risk of dying from common infections.

Anderson said this worries him because WFP is suffering from a severe funding shortfall. He said WFP has received only 30% of the $1 billion it needs for its operation this year, forcing the agency to make drastic cuts in food aid.

Anderson said the agency is currently serving about 2 million people in Afghanistan, down from 12 million previously.

The World Health Organization reports the heavy rainfall that triggered the violent flooding has rendered several health facilities nonoperational, making it difficult for people to access essential services.

“The full extent of the damage caused by the floods is still being assessed, and WHO and local health authorities are closely looking into the situation on the ground to see what we can identify,” said Christian Lindmeier, WHO spokesperson.

He noted that WHO so far has delivered seven metric tons of essential medicines and medical supplies and has “immediately deployed a surveillance support team and other experts for flood-response activities.”

Prior to the disaster, he said, WHO had already provided enough medication for pneumonia and acute watery diarrhea, as well as enough malnutrition treatments for some 20,000 people, plus supplies for 500 trauma cases.

Additionally, he said, “Seventeen mobile health teams were deployed by WHO and health partners to support the delivery of health care.”

WFP’s Anderson said that to date, there have been no reported problems with the Taliban regarding “the integration of our female staff members” into WFP’s humanitarian operation.

“We are always very keen to ensure that all beneficiaries, all affected populations, male or female, are adequately and equally covered in our response mechanisms and processes,” he said.

While acknowledging the many competing crises in the world, the WFP official said this was no time to abandon Afghanistan. He repeated his appeal for international support, saying, “You cannot just stop feeding starving people.”

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