OPINION - Afghans need our help – in a world of abundance, there is no justification for a child to die of hunger

·4-min read
 (Nora Hassanien)
(Nora Hassanien)

I’ll never forget a moment from last week, when a mother I’d never met came running over. She was holding her baby out in front of her. Clearly not thinking about Covid, she embraced me with a big hug and a kiss.

She was so elated that her child – who had been on the brink of severe malnutrition just months before – was getting healthier after receiving treatment from Save the Children’s mobile health and nutrition team in Afghanistan.

This image has stuck in my mind because it is one of hope, a reminder that recovery is possible as long as we pull together. However, in general, what we are hearing and seeing is beyond bleak – and the situation is only getting worse. The hunger crisis in Afghanistan right now is the worst in the world.

97 per cent of the population are likely to drop below the poverty line in the coming months as people face the reality of the aftermath of decades of war, climate crisis and now international sanctions which are creating economic collapse, soaring unemployment rates and skyrocketing costs of food, water and fuel – which are going up every day.

It’s also really, really, cold here. Kabul is currently minus eight degrees at night, I’m sleeping in thermals, jumpers, with central heating. It is painful to think of those displaced families who are having to endure this outside with just a tent and minimal supplies to stay warm. There’s already snow in some areas and temperatures can get as low as minus 15 degrees.

This situation is a children’s crisis. The more families are being pushed to desperate circumstances, the harder it is for them to protect their children – from starvation, from malnutrition, from hypothermia. The harder it is to justify keeping their children in school and away from harmful forms of labour.

Before, one in 16 children in Afghanistan were dying before their fifth birthday – which is a staggering statistic in itself. With all these factors at play, children under five are increasingly vulnerable. Five million children are now just one step away from famine and if urgent action isn’t taken, the United Nations are predicting one million children will die this winter.

Our health and nutrition staff are totally overwhelmed, to the point that they can’t get a break to pray or go to the toilet. Even working continuously, they aren’t able to see all the people who need help.

Beyond nutrition support, parents urgently need cash transfers to help heat their homes this winter and buy food for their children who are facing starvation. As an example of how severe the economic crisis is: this time last year firewood for a family for winter used to cost around $60. It is now closer to $200.

Some parents have told us they have looked to marry their children off as they simply can’t feed them, while others have had offers from people to adopt their children. These are impossible decisions for families to make and could be avoided. No parent wants to give up their child – and no parent should ever have to consider this.

But international sanctions and economic collapse are pushing families into circumstances that are unimaginable. Money could help support these families and make them feel like they can survive, to stop them from going down this desperate path.

During my childhood, growing up in London Bridge, then Acton, my parents sheltered me from many hardships but raised my sister and I to be aware of our privilege and to do all we can to try and give back to others.

My mother grew up under war and occupation and so from an early age I passionately cared about social justice issues and was an activist on these issues from the age of 12.

I went on to do a lot of local and international volunteering including human rights violation monitoring and refugee assistance. My first real international humanitarian mission was in 2009 and I went on to join Save the Children in 2013 with my first deployment being to support Syrian refugees in Egypt. After spending a year and a half in Egypt I joined Save the Children’s emergency response or ‘surge’ team and have been responding to crises around the world ever since.

What motivates me? If I was going through crisis, I hope someone would also be there to help me. Since working on the Afghanistan response (from August) and arriving in-country in November I have tried to think – if I were facing this crisis myself, how would I want to be treated?

The people of Afghanistan are impressive, inspiring and resilient, but conditions here are beyond any of us to survive without solidarity. Families need your support, and they need it very, very quickly. In a world of abundance, surplus and waste, there is no justification for a child to die of hunger.

If you can give anything at all, please donate to the DEC’s Afghanistan Crisis Appeal today. You will quite literally be a life-saver.

To donate visit www.dec.org.uk 

Nora Hassanien is Save the Children’s Acting Country Director in Afghanistan.

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