Nearly 20 million people in Afghanistan – almost half of the population – are suffering from food insecurity due to the Taliban’s ruling, the US-led economic sanctions, and extreme droughts triggered by climate change. We explore in more detail the events that led to the food crisis in Afghanistan and what the international community can do to help the vulnerable country.
How did the Food Crisis in Afghanistan Begin?
Following US President Joe Biden’s announcement that the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) would withdraw their troops from Afghanistan without leaving any residual power in April 2021, the Taliban, an Islamic extremist group designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, launched a series of military operations against the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
On 15 August 2021, the Taliban entered Kabul – the capital city of Afghanistan – and occupied the presidential palace. Four days later, the terrorist group proclaimed the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, an absolute monarchy.
Since the formation of the Taliban in 1994, and during its governance of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the group showed strong military capability but poor governance. The Taliban was grounded in Sharia – the Islamic law based on the Koran and the teaching of the prophet, Muhammad. They interpreted texts in a fundamentalist and literalist way, rather than adapting old texts to the modern context. Laws under the Taliban were hence misogynistic as well as discriminatory against different religions. To impose their laws, they used violence and fear to make their citizens obey.
After 9/11, a terrorist attack launched by Al-Qaeda – another Islamic extremist group that also originated from Afghanistan – the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden – the group’s founder, triggering the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. The Taliban was soon overthrown, and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was formed with the support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which was established by the United Nations to assist the Republic in rebuilding strong political institutions.
Although some people describe the invasion as an act of expansionism and criticise the US for not understanding the differences between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the Afghans’ attitude towards the US-led overthrow of the Taliban was generally positive, according to a 2005 ABC News poll. Following the Taliban’s fall and US takeover of the country, the living conditions, freedom of expression, security from violence, and economic opportunities significantly improved.
When the American troops left the country last year after 20 years of occupation, Biden justified his decision by stating that his country’s military mission in Afghanistan was never to assist in the creation of democracy but to prevent a terrorist attack on the American homeland.
Since its establishment, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was still deeply corrupted and heavily relied on foreign aid. Realistically, the US did not foresee a future where the Republic would be a country that could survive on its own and be a valuable asset to the US. However, when seeing people being killed under the Taliban regime and more than 2 million refugees forced to leave their homes, this argument becomes irrelevant to many.
Economic Losses Fuelled the Food Crisis in Afghanistan
Although the Taliban now rule the country in a way that violates human rights, the group is not the only factor causing the food crisis in Afghanistan. Instead, the sanctions from the United Nations and the US have also played a key role in exacerbating the famine. Following the Taliban’s takeover of the country, the latter cut financial aid – which accounted for more than 70% of government spending – and froze assets worth nearly 10 billion dollars.
The sudden loss in capital fuelled a tremendous economic crisis. As a result, businesses across the country were forced to shut down, resulting in massive losses of jobs and money to make ends meet.
The sanctions imposed on Afghanistan are questionable since the Taliban’s return to power was predictable when the US announced the withdrawal of troops. Are the sanctions supposed to be compensation for the country’s reckless decision of withdrawing troops so suddenly? Regardless of the objective, the penalisations aimed at the Taliban harm the Afghan citizens instead.
How An Unprecedented Drought is Complicating the Already Delicate Situation
To make matters worse, the troops’ withdrawal and subsequent economic collapse of the country happened during one of the worst droughts Afghanistan has ever experienced.
Experts have ascribed the drought to a geographical phenomenon called la Niña. This refers to the situation when the trade wind in the Pacific Ocean that blows mainly from America to Australia is too strong, making the ocean in Australia warmer than usual. As a result, evaporation occurs much faster. With clouds forming quickly, precipitations fall more rapidly, failing to reach countries in the Middle East like Afghanistan. Although La Niña is a natural phenomenon, climate change has certainly worsened it because moisture in the soil evaporates at a faster rate when global temperatures rise.
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The drought contributed to food insecurity as crops, mostly wheat, failed to grow and livestock died of thirst. The impact of drought is exceptionally high in Afghanistan, a country in which the agricultural sector supports the livelihoods of about three-quarters of the total population and accounts for 28% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The country’s food supply is not enough to sustain the huge population. Moreover, the loss of foreign aid – which originally represented over 40% of Afghanistan’s GDP – only exacerbated the situation.
Right now, most of the food in Afghanistan is provided by humanitarian organisations. These supplies are enough to satisfy the needs of approximately 3.2 million people. However, according to estimates, nearly 20 million people are currently in a state of hunger – 10 million of which are children.
Are There Any Solutions in Sight?
Without stabilising the economy, famine will persist even with the same level of humanitarian aid. To do so, it is imperative that the US lifts sanctions and unlocks funding. Yet, even prior to the Taliban’s takeover of the country, Afghanistan was already heavily based on foreign aid. Hence, it is unrealistic to expect that the country can be self-reliant under the Taliban’s ruling even without sanctions.
Yet, the future of Afghanistan remains dim as the threats of climate change intensify day by day. In order to cope with drought and secure food supply for the entire population, scientists have been adopting technologies like drip irrigation that can save up to 70% of water as well as introducing more drought-tolerant crops. However, most of these solutions are impossible to be implemented in Afghanistan without sufficient investment, especially after the Taliban’s ban on foreign currency as a means of transaction.
It will never be possible for the Afghans to live in dignity and security without worrying about food if countries around the world do not start negotiations with the current Afghan regime and agree on providing funding for agriculture and food trade. Unfortunately, even with all these presumptions, the future of Afghanistan remains uncertain
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