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Food Insecurity And Healthcare Challenges In Afghanistan: Post-War Perspective
Dr. Bawa Singh and Dr. Jaspal Kaur
2023-04-26
Region : Central Asia, Afghanistan, Economy,
Issue : Security,
For decades, different domestic groups and foreign powers have been involved in Afghanistan’s conflict/war during the last four decades. The main argument of this work is to analyse how war has impacted agriculture leading to the food insecurity.
The same has created ripple impacts on development turning the country into the trap of abject poverty along with its side-effects on healthcare. Agriculture is one of the country’s most important backbone of economy, but it has been severely impacted by the war. As a direct consequence of this, many people in Afghanistan do have limited access to food which is high in nutrients. The rate of malnutrition is extremely high among the Afghans. Ultimately these dynamics resulted into abysmally low accessibility of healthcare services.
Introduction
Following the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan plunged into a period of internal conflict characterised by civil war, as multiple Mujahideen factions vied for political power and control. The year 1996 marked the ascension of the Taliban, to power in the city of Kabul, where they proceeded to implement a stringent interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence. During the Taliban’s regime, there were numerous instances of human rights violations, notably the curtailment of women’s rights.
Following the September 11th attacks in 2001, the US and its allies initiated their involvement in Afghanistan. The United States government has levelled accusations against the Taliban for harbouring Al-Qaeda, the extremist organisation that has been held responsible for the aforementioned attacks. The United States initiated a military operation with the objective of overthrowing the Taliban government and impeding the activities of Al-Qaeda in retaliation.
The Conflict Today
Afghanistan’s history has been marked by protracted conflict since the late 1970s, including coups, invasions, insurrections, and civil wars. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. In the Soviet-Afghan War, the Mujahideen fought the Soviets, and after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, they fought with the Afghanistan government.
By 1996, the Taliban had taken over the majority of the country. The 9/11 took place in 2001, resulting into the launching of the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), wherein the NATO/ISAF on the on the one hand and the Taliban on the other were engaged in protracted war. This war resulted into massive men and material losses. Ultimately, the US decide to withdraw from Afghanistan. The withdrawal of the US resulted into the seizing of Kabul and topped the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s government by the Taliban. Consequently, the Taliban regained control in Augurs 2021. In that way, the international war came to an end which was fought between the period of 2001-2021.
The Taliban re-established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in September 2021 with an interim administration made up solely of Taliban male members, despite initially promising to form a government that would include all citizens. The Taliban administration is still not acknowledged on a global scale. In that way, Afghanistan had experienced decades of conflict/war and political instability, which have had a profound impacts on the country’s food security and healthcare systems. In recent years, efforts have been made to improve these critical areas of public health, however, these challenges haunting the country even more critically than the previous.
Post-War Afghanistan in the Quagmire of Socio-Economic Challenges
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report study titled “Afghanistan Socio-Economic Outlook 2023” on 18 April, 2023 in Kabul. The report details how Afghanistan’s economic growth shrank and dropped by 20.7 percent after the Taliban took over in 2021. Afghanistan has remained one of the world’s poorest countries as a direct result of this unprecedented shock of mixture of conflict and post-withdrawal implications.
Even though there have been a few encouraging indications of recovery, such as a steadying exchange rate, increasing exports, rising demand for labour, and subdued inflation, GDP is still expected to have fallen by 3.6% in 2022. If international aid continues at its current level of $3.7 billion per year, the new report estimates that Afghanistan’s GDP will grow by 1.3% in 2023 (Charlotte Greenfield, 18 April, 2023). Long-term economic recovery, however, is anticipated to be remain dim, especially if international aid is cut off as a result of the Taliban’s ongoing domestic repressive policies, contradictory to the international laws.
In this situation, the people of Afghanistan started practicing of commodifying their own family members, turning children into labourers and young daughters into brides. The economic situation in Afghanistan is dire, and the impending takeover in August 2021 had made the situation worse than before. According to UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, “the loss of food, livelihoods, and access to basic services has resulted from the effects of the pandemic, followed by an extraordinary 20.7% contraction of the economy, and an unusually severe drought.”
Food Security in Post-War Afghanistan
Agriculture, which consists primarily of subsistence farming and pastoral nomadism, is the most important component of the gross domestic product (GDP) in normal times, accounting for nearly half of its total size. Agriculture has been remained an important element for its food security by directly providing food, employment etc. Historically, up to 85 percent of the population eking out their bread and butter primarily from agriculture, particularly the farmers. Agriculture is by far the most important source of income in the country, which was effected seriously by the foreign intervention along with reduction in governmental help for agriculture. Afghanistan’s 20-year conflict and Taliban takeover of the government have affected Afghans from all walks of life, i.e., economy, agriculture, food security, healthcare etc.
Agriculture supports 80% of Afghans. Farmers say the previous governments didn’t support agriculture much, but at least they had a few programmes for the support of agriculture, which the Taliban after taken over had brought to an end. Former Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Hamdullah Hamdard says they provided seeds, fertilisers and watershed management projects. He has also claimed that support has disappeared now. Some farmers’ products are not being allowed, especially at the Afghan-Pak borders, which is hurting the farming communities and their livelihoods. It is reported that poverty rose from 19 million in 2020 to 34 million in 2022. Abdallah Al Dardari, UNDP’s resident representative in Afghanistan had warned that “If foreign aid is reduced this year, Afghanistan may fall from the cliff edge into the abyss” (Middle East Eyes, 18 April, 2023).
The issue of food insecurity in Afghanistan has been a longstanding concern, which has been further compounded by the ongoing conflict. The nation’s reliance on agriculture has been significantly impacted by a combination of armed conflict, prolonged periods of drought, and various environmental factors. Consequently, a considerable number of individuals in Afghanistan are deprived of the opportunity of nourishing sustenance, leading to a significant incidence of malnourishment, particularly among the younger population. Food insecurity is more severe in rural areas, where the majority of the population resides as the farmers are being compelled to relinquish their land as a result of violence and displacement, concomitant with the demolition of infrastructures such irrigation systems. Afghanistan is confronted with notable economic challenges, encompassing elevated rates of poverty and unemployment, in addition to the aforementioned challenges.
The World Food Programme (WFP)’s latest Food Security Update, released in October 2022, found that nine out of ten households were food insecure. Ninety percent of household income is spent on food, with half of all households resorting to coping mechanisms to ensure they have enough to eat. Nearly 20 million people in Afghanistan are acutely food-insecure, including more than 6 million people on the brink of famine-like conditions, according to the preliminary projections for November 2022 to March 2023. As a result of gender restrictions, 84% of households in which a woman is the primary bread earners are going to be famished. When compared to households headed by men and those who are headed by women are twice as likely to give up their own food to ensure the family has enough to eat. (WFP Afghanistan: Situation Report, 18 January 2023).
Afghans have been suffering the devastating effects of the economic collapse more than a year after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan seized power, which led the international donors to suspend the majority of non-humanitarian funding and freeze billions of dollars’ worth of assets. The worst outcomes were avoided last winter thanks to rapid increases in aid that stopped famine and made health and nutrition services available to nearly 10 million Afghans. However, these measures were failed to tackle the underlying factors that have led to the crisis. Moreover, the endeavours to engage the Afghan de facto authority, there has been no consensus among the global community regarding a strategy to tackle the economic breakdown in Afghanistan. Therefore, the majority of the populace is currently experiencing poverty, resulting into a lot of side effects in terms of food insecurity, healthcare challenges etc.
Over 50% of the Afghan populace depends on humanitarian assistance. Despite this aid, 97% of the country’s population has been remained vulnerable to poverty. Presently, a significant proportion of the monetary resources allocated by an average Afghan household is expended on sustenance, with a staggering 91% of the total expenditure being directed towards food. The provision of international aid accounts for 75% of public expenditure in Afghanistan and the suspension of the same resulted into inadequate of food and healthcare.
In the winter of 2022, Afghanistan has grappled with a food insecurity crisis that has affected approximately 18.9 million individuals. The aforementioned figure indicates a twofold increase from the summer of 2021. It is indicating that individuals are encountering challenges in obtaining or affording the necessary sustenance to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Individuals are compelled to make exceedingly difficult decisions in order to secure sustenance, while minors are especially susceptible to the perils of famine, inadequate nourishment, and hunger-related illnesses that could have been avoided.
In the year 2022, there was an 81% reduction in government expenditure on social services within the country in question. The suspension of numerous international funding sources, in conjunction with other factors, has significantly undermined the provision of crucial public services in general and health in particular (Watch List 2023. 28 December, 2022).
Paralyzed Healthcare System
According to one staff member’s claim from Regional Hospital Herat that there are instances where it is found that mothers who had experienced malnourishment, those are unable to lactate. Then these mother are providing tea to their newly born babies instead of milk. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that the act of providing tea to newborns, who are merely seven or eight days old, potentially to be very hazardous for the babies. Moreover, the economic crisis has had significant impacts on the timing of medical care seeking in addition to food access. According to a survey carried out in Afghanistan by the MSF, wherein about eighty-eight percent surveyed people reported that the delaying, suspending, or opting out of medical care was a common issue related to healthcare in 2022, which was a higher percentage than the 2021s.
According to Filipe Ribeiro, the country representative of MSF in Afghanistan, a significant issue in the region is the insufficient equipment, resources, and staffing of peripheral health facilities. Consequently, individuals residing in remote regions are compelled to cover a long distance and time to take adequate health care. Given this inadequate healthcare by the government, people are being in insurmountable indebtedness. The optimistic anticipation that the conclusion of the war would substantially alleviate impediments to healthcare accessibility however, it was happen other way round and rather thwarted by the emergence of new regime.
The health situation of women in Afghanistan is comparatively more fragile. According to the report by MSF, over 60% of the respondents who were surveyed, opined that women encounter greater challenges in accessing healthcare as compared to men. The recent decision of the Afghan government to prohibit women from pursuing employment opportunities in non-governmental organisations and higher education institutions is expected to have a negative impact on women’s access to healthcare services (Doctors Without Borders, 6 February, 2023).
It is concluded that as a result of the protracted war and conflict, serious challenges such as food insecurity and healthcare issues have emerged in Afghanistan. Millions of Afghans are now vulnerable due to a lack of access to sufficient and nourishing food and medical care, with children and women being the most severely impacted. There is an urgent need for long-term solutions that can address the problems’ underlying causes, even though humanitarian aid and efforts have been made to address these issues. This necessitates not only political stability but also sizeable expenditures on societal infrastructure for healthcare, education, and economic growth. It is crucial to put the needs of the Afghan people first, especially those who have suffered the most as the rest of the world observes the ongoing changes in that country. The only way Afghanistan can have a sustainable future in which problems with food insecurity and access to healthcare are a thing of the past is through a cooperative effort between the international community and the Afghan government.
*About the authors:
• Dr. Bawa Singh, Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab. bawasingh73@gmail.com
• Dr. Jaspal Kaur, Department of Sociology, School of Social Science and Humanities, Lovely Professional University Phagwara (Punjab)-India. jaspal2101@gmail.com
This article originally appeared in Eurasia Review
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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