13,000 Afghan Children Died in 2022, 95% of Country Lacks Adequate Food Amid Sanctions on Taliban
22:19 GMT 21.03.2022 (Updated: 20:11 GMT 19.10.2022)
© AP Photo / Mstyslav ChernovFILE - An Afghan woman holds her children as she waits for a consultation outside a makeshift clinic at a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts housing those displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2021.
© AP Photo / Mstyslav Chernov
In the aftermath of the *Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the US canceled billions in aid to the war-torn country and froze its financial assets, with the United Nations warning the move would create a humanitarian disaster worse than the 20-year US war against the group.
The Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported recently that 13,700 Afghan newborns have died from malnutrition and hunger-related diseases since the start of 2022 alone.
“We had around 124,800 premature childbirths so far since the beginning of 2022, normally 10 percent of these children die, so (as an estimate) 13,700 of these children died,” ministry spokesman Jawid Hazher told TOLOnews on March 15.
Malalai Rahimi, the head of Malalai Maternity Hospital in the capital of Kabul, told the outlet that poverty and a lack of access to medical care was responsible for the rise in infant mortality. Another doctor with Medecins San Frontieres in the western city of Herat reported the week prior that “half of those we admit for critical care are also malnourished” and 60% have critical cases of the measles.
“If a child is malnourished, as many in Afghanistan are at the moment, their immune system is already very weak and that can lead to a more severe and prolonged measles infection,” Fazal Hai Ziarmal, MSF’s clinical team leader at Boost hospital in Lashkar Gah, said in the news release. “This then damages their immune system even further and makes children very vulnerable. A lot of malnourished children die from post measles complications.”
In postwar Afghanistan, malnutrition is almost universal. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ramiz Alakbarov said in a March 15 statement that “a staggering 95% of the population is not eating enough food, with that percentage rising to almost 100% for female-headed households.” The Afghan population is roughly 39 million, including 2.6 million who fled the country as refugees.
“It is a figure so high that it is almost inconceivable. Yet, devastatingly, it is the harsh reality,” he said. Alakbarov is also deputy head of the UN assistance mission, UNAMA.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was already grim, thanks to decades of almost nonstop war, including the US occupation that began in October 2001, when the US invaded and overthrew the Taliban government in retaliation for allowing **al-Qaeda to plan the September 11 terrorist attacks in the country. According to a 2016 report by the Costs of War Project at Brown University, some 241,000 people were killed in the war, 71,300 of whom have been identified as civilians, and indirect deaths attributed to disruptions caused by the war - such as shortages of medicine, stresses caused by the conflict or being a refugee, or illnesses caused by food and water shortages or spoilage - were estimated to be another 360,000 people.
Following the Taliban victory, the US froze $9.5 billion in assets in Afghanistan’s central bank and, along with other nations, canceled essentially all aid to the impoverished country. According to World Bank data, foreign aid comprised 43% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021, or $8.5 billion. The US also gave its Afghan ally almost $4 billion per year to fill vital budgets, including military salaries, which it canceled in August 2021, plunging the central Asian nation into economic collapse.
Filling that gap has been tough: the UN has pledged $1.1 billion in donations and the European Union another $1.15 billion, and the US a reported fraction of those amounts. In February, the US unfroze $7 billion of the Afghan central bank’s money still in a US Federal Reserve account, but took $3.5 billion and gave it to the families of September 11 victims. The White House said it would “seek to facilitate access” to the other half “for the benefit of the Afghan people.”
*The Taliban - a group under United Nations sanction for terrorist activities
**Al-Qaeda - a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries