09/28/2021, 14.31
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Kabul faces stark food emergency

by Alessandra De Poli

Fabrizio Cesaretti, local deputy director of FAO, speaks from the Afghan capital. "Agriculture was already on its knees because of the second consecutive year of drought, one person out of three is at serious risk of hunger. October and November planting will be decisive. With the end of the war we are reaching areas that were previously inaccessible, but all projects for adaptation to climate change, which is already showing its effects heavily here, have stopped."

Kabul (AsiaNews)- "In April this year data from FAO and the World Food Programme already showed that 1 Afghan in 3 is in a crisis or emergency situation in terms of food security. For this reason, today it is even more essential not to let the country sink into famine. From Kabul, once again in the hands of the Taliban, Fabrizio Cesaretti, deputy director of FAO and head of emergency and resilience programs in Afghanistan, describes the difficult humanitarian challenge they are grappling with.

He has been in the Afghan capital since March 2019, but was in Italy when the Taliban recaptured Kabul. Returning on the first United Nations flight from Islamabad, he tells AsiaNews about the emergency programs Fao is putting in place to prevent the level of food insecurity from rising further.

Cesaretti explains that "problems have existed for decades, but the conflict has aggravated them with population movements, both inside and outside the country."

Between 2018 and 2021, the food crisis was exacerbated by drought, caused by la Niña, the oscillation of temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that affects the climate of the entire planet.

"In Afghanistan it causes a reduction in rainfall during the winter. Between 2017/18 there were at least 300 thousand refugees as a result of the food crisis," because “if agricultural fields do not yield, people sell the livestock they cannot feed and migrate to the cities. The situation has repeated itself this year."

“In the 2020/21 season, the reduction in rainfall has reached up to 40-50% and there are provinces that no longer have water in the irrigation basins, especially in the west and south of the country."

FAO offers support to agricultural production and ensures that rural populations do not lose their means of production.

The FAO deputy director in Kabul continues "to cope with the serious situation the population has already reduced food income and livestock. We are supporting the wheat production campaign, because the sowing for the next season is between October and November. We distribute improved seeds, fertilizers, and through local partners we provide technical assistance. With a kit that costs 0 in total, a family gets a wheat crop of almost 600, which is enough to feed them for a year and reduces the food aid load that will be needed in the coming months."

Two consecutive winters this dry are a symptom of the severity of climate change. "Not only are the frequency and intensity increasing, but in the periods in between, natural resources no longer have time to recover." FAO had a number of adaptation programs, but they are currently on hold because all of the development programs were in partnership with the Afghan government.

Until the political situation settles down, continues the Italian co-operator, "there is great uncertainty" in the country, despite the Taliban have expressed their willingness to maintain the presence of NGOs in the country.

Paradoxically, "since the end of the fighting we have access to rural areas that we didn't reach before, a fact that is extremely important for us. Many roads have been reopened and at least this is a positive sign. We can make more accurate evaluations and without the clashes the security risks for the beneficiaries have decreased".

There is no lack of evaluation of the cultural factor in aid distribution. In Afghanistan there are nomadic tribes and others semi-nomadic. "We provide livestock and basic vetinary care to the nomadic peoples. While we would distribute seeds for fodder crops to settled populations."

The intervention in aid of women is different, who are mainly involved in poultry breeding and vegetable cultivation. "When women are able to have a self-generated income they are able to have more say and are able to feed their children better in a country where bread is the basis of the diet."

But the biggest problem now is the lack of cash liquidity. "For a few months now, civil servants have not been paid, people cannot withdraw more than 0 a week in local currency. FAO's partner NGOs can't pay their employees and all money transfers are also blocked. At the moment we can't even give the money to our beneficiaries".

A more structured solution will be needed for the long term, but right now Afghans are taking refuge in the practice of hawala, an Islamic system of transferring money and assets from one person to another based on the word of honour.

"It was used in the past when the local banking system had big limitations, and now I see that the population is starting to use it again," Cesaretti comments. But he also underlines the great resilience of the Afghan people: "I've been working around the world since 1995 and I've never felt so comfortable with an international team. In addition to being great workers, the Afghans have a great desire to solve their country's problems".

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