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The head of the UN World Food Program (WFP) in Afghanistan, Mary-Ellen McGroarty, has warned from Kabul that the lack of food due to drought and the imminent economic collapse facing the country, isolated with the return of the Taliban to power, could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.
The reality for Afghans was already precarious before the Taliban seized power on August 15. The severe drought affecting the country has sent food prices soaring. The WFP estimates that the lack of water ruined about 40% of the wheat crop. The precarious situation means that the new regime is also dependent on foreign aid.
"The situation we are in at the moment is absolutely horrendous and could turn into a humanitarian catastrophe," McGroarty has warned from Kabul, in an interview with Reuters.
Millions of Afghans could soon starve to death due to the combination of conflict, drought and COVID-19, said the institution, which has warned that with growing needs they may run out of their main supply, wheat flour, as of October, and has urgently appealed to raise $200 million (168 million euros) to fund its activities in the country.
"In the current context, there are no national safety nets. Since August 15, we have seen the crisis grow and accelerate in the face of the imminent economic collapse the country is heading for," McGroarty added.
Since the Taliban takeover, civil servants have not been paid their salaries, the currency has depreciated and citizens can only withdraw $200 a week (€168) from the bank.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says Afghanistan's "humanitarian and economic crisis is deepening" and basic services are "collapsing completely." pic.twitter.com/303JJxfJ0q
Recalling the 2017-2018 drought in Afghanistan, McGroarty laments that "people are again faced with no food in the pantry, no food to put on the table, with having to sell livestock or what little they have to try to survive."
Foreign aid is still needed, it remains to be seen how the relationship with the new regime will be managed. "The Taliban are dependent on the UN and they know it. They can't feed the population," an official who has worked in Afghanistan, who asked not to be identified, told the British agency.
The WFP is maintaining its operations in Afghanistan and has imported food from Uzbekistan and Pakistan, helping 200,000 people in the past two weeks, pending the reopening of the air bridge to Kabul.