One million children at risk of dying from starvation in Afghanistan within weeks – UNICEF

2nd December 2021


One million children at risk of dying from starvation in Afghanistan within weeks – UNICEF

UNICEF calls for urgent international aid to avert a humanitarian disaster

UNICEF spokespeople in Afghanistan are available for interview

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Kabul/Dublin, 02 December 2021: One million children in Afghanistan are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition within weeks unless they get access to life-saving treatment. As the country struggles to cope with a rapidly deteriorating economic situation, drought and an ongoing food crisis, UNICEF is calling for urgent funds to avert the approaching humanitarian disaster.

According to UNICEF, half the country, around 23 million people in Afghanistan is facing acute food insecurity, with an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. UNICEF said at least 1 million of these children are at risk of dying due to severe acute malnutrition without immediate treatment.

UNICEF is calling on governments and individual donors around the world to increase their support for Afghanistan and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. “Afghanistan is standing on a precipice, and the international community cannot abandon its children. At least 10 million children across the country are in need of humanitarian assistance to survive. Now, with winter approaching – the temperatures can go as low as -25⁰C. We urgently need support to prevent a crisis from becoming a catastrophe. It is not too late for the international community to make a difference. We have an opportunity to avert a humanitarian disaster and we must grab it with both hands,” said UNICEF Afghanistan Representative a.i, Alice Akunga.

As of mid-September, 95 percent of Afghans have insufficient food consumption, according to WFP, with three-quarters of households limiting portion sizes or borrowing food, and adults eating less so children can eat. In such situations, as families fall deeper into poverty, children are at greater risk of being forced into child labour, child marriage or other harmful practices. UNICEF has received reports of vulnerable families resorting to exchanging their daughters for dowries to enable the rest of the family to eat.

UNICEF places its current needs at US$192 million to provide lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable, especially children, and estimates that this figure will increase as the needs continue to grow. UNICEF said vulnerabilities will be exacerbated by harsh winter conditions expected between December and February when temperatures in Afghanistan can reach as low as -25 degrees Celsius in mountainous areas. A total of 12.1 million people are estimated to be in need of assistance this coming winter. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and returnees who reside in open spaces or in congested informal settlements are particularly at risk, as they live in poor, unhygienic and undignified living conditions with little access to basic services.

“Afghanistan is a country in crisis, and those least responsible – the country’s children – are paying the heaviest price. The situation of children in Afghanistan was dire even before the Taliban take-over. But now in the face of conflict, drought, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the freezing of donor aid, we fear that the humanitarian needs of children and women will only increase over the coming months,” said Acting Representative Akunga.

With a history stretching back 70 years in Afghanistan and 13 offices across the country, UNICEF is well placed to respond to the emergency and is scaling up its lifesaving programmes for children and women – including through the delivery of health, nutrition and safe water to displaced families. In October, UNICEF helped treat 30,000 children under-5 for severe acute malnutrition, working through 60 mobile health/nutrition teams across 15 provinces. In addition, a total of 150,000 women were provided with nutrition counselling services on maternal and infant and young child feeding. UNICEF and partners also supported the vaccination of one million adults to protect them and their families from COVID-19.

In response to the malnutrition crisis facing children in Afghanistan, UNICEF has launched an urgent fundraising appeal. More information on the appeal can be found at



Notes to the editor:

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