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AFGHANISTAN:  COVID-19 exacerbates Afghanistan's food crisis, 10 million acutely food insecure

  • Food insecurity remains alarmingly high in Afghanistan with continuing conflict, widespread unemployment, and price hikes, all exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 10.9 million people (35% of the population analysed) are estimated to be in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or above in the current period (April-May 2020). These include around 7.38 million people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and 3.47 million people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). In total, four analysis areas were classified in IPC Phase 4 (Badakshan, Daykundi, Hirat Urban and Kandahar Urban).
  • After the harvest, it is likely the food insecurity situation will improve in rural areas, since households will have increased access to food from own production and prices may also decrease. Despite the overall reduction in people facing acute food insecurity, the number of people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in urban areas is expected to increase in the projection period.
  • In urban centers, the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 are likely to counteract the positive impacts of the harvest. The severity will be higher in areas where humanitarian access is limited. Although food is still available in nearly all markets, the prices of basic food commodities increased by 10 to 20%. The lockdown measures put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic significantly decreased daily labour opportunities, reducing household purchasing power and food access.

Actions Needed

Response priorities:

  • Immediate action is required to contain the high rate of asset depletion and food consumption gaps through food assistance for the population classified in IPC Phase 4 (Emergency) and IPC Phase 3 (Crisis). The modality (cash or in-kind) of the food assistance should be considered based on proper market analysis, as prices of food commodities are significantly high and border closures can further disrupt economical food access.
  • Livelihood assets creation programmes should be considered where possible, while providing cash or in-kind assistance to construct and rehabilitate water infrastructure for agriculture and livestock such as tube-wells, water channels and reservoirs for better conservation and management.
  • Food assistance should be prioritised in urban areas, especially for those relying on daily wage labour and unsustainable sources of income. Humanitarian agencies should follow government guidelines and international practices during distribution in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Rural farmers will not be able to get labour opportunities, especially small and medium farmers, so they may consume all of their harvest during this challenging lockdown period. Around 74% of farmers reported a lack of seed for next cropping season. Timely provision of quality seeds will help farmers not only to cultivate but also increase the production for household consumption.
  • The government must facilitate a smooth flow of food supply chain during the lockdown. Crop pest and disease monitoring and control should continue to avoid losses.
  • Introduce livelihood diversification programmes for the people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of food insecurity, especially female-headed households and people with disabilities. Livestock support, poultry and kitchen gardening are potential activities to enhance food security, nutrition and income of vulnerable communities.
  • Considering the regular occurrence of environmental shocks, stakeholders should also focus their attention and funding on programs to build resilience to disasters and reduce disaster risks. Afghanistan already entered in the flooding season, so measures should be taken to avoid loss of lives and livelihoods.
  • The complex context of Afghanistan, including ethnically diverse people, rugged terrain and continuing civil unrest, needs to be considered when developing strategies for food and livelihood security programming.

Situations to monitor:

  • The recent lockdown in major urban centres of the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic significantly damaged the urban wage sector. Afghan urban communities are highly dependent on these opportunities, so measures should be taken to monitor the performance of the urban wage sector and its impact on food security of the urban poor.
  • Afghanistan is highly dependent on the import of staple food; recent border closures significantly impacted food availability and prices in the country. Though we are at the beginning of the harvest, close monitoring of the harvest and borders are required to predict the food availability situation in the country.
  • Food price monitoring should also continue in the major markets of the country and measures should be taken to expand food price monitoring, as most of the communities are relying on the purchase of food from local markets.
  • Crop pest and diseases and livestock diseases should be monitored, as these can potentially impact crops and livestock in 14 provinces of the country as per the historical trends.
  • Abnormal rainfall patterns which would increase the probability of natural hazards such as droughts and floods; on average, spring floods affect approximately 200,000 vulnerable people every year.
  • The deterioration of the security situation in provinces, which triggers the displacement of rural population to cities during the current and projection analysis periods, including during spring, can increase the probability of conflict. On average, around 500,000 people migrate to secure areas every year because of conflict.
  • The flow of returns remained highest during March and April 2020 in comparison with previous trends because of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially from Iran. High rate of return and decrease in remittances should be monitored, as these will affect food access and further saturate an already stressed urban labour market.

IPC Classification Maps

April - May 2020

June - November 2020

Population in IPC Phases

April - May 2020

June - November 2020 (Projection)

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