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As 2022 starts, most Afghans don't have enough food to eat

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As 2022 begins, most people in Afghanistan don't have enough food. Millions are facing hunger and starvation amid a prolonged drought and economic crash following the Taliban takeover in August. NPR's Hannah Bloch reports from Islamabad.

HANNAH BLOCH, BYLINE: It's January, and for the overwhelming majority of Afghans, it's bleak.

SHELLEY THAKRAL: There's 98% of people who are just not getting access to food. So they're not having milk, they're not having dairy, they're not having meat because they can't afford it - probably less fresh vegetables, less fruit.

BLOCH: That's Shelley Thakral, the World Food Programme spokesperson for Afghanistan. More than half the population - some 23 million Afghans - are facing what the WFP calls extreme levels of hunger. Malnutrition is soaring. Afghanistan has seen hunger emergencies before, but Thakral says one thing that's different this time is...

THAKRAL: We're also seeing a new urban class of hungry people.

BLOCH: People who've lost their jobs and never imagined they'd go hungry are scrounging and standing in line for food aid.

THAKRAL: So we've been speaking to people who are - have - were schoolteachers or construction workers scavenging for whatever food that they can find.

BLOCH: Some Afghans have resorted to desperate measures, selling household goods, furniture, clothing - in some cases even selling their own children into early marriages. And then there's the winter snow.

THAKRAL: And when that layer of snow - it's brutal, kind of bitter cold. So if you don't have money to buy food, you certainly don't have money to buy fuel or firewood to keep warm.

BLOCH: Which leaves people having to make a terrible choice between staying warm and keeping fed.

THAKRAL: You know, it shouldn't be a lottery of life about who gets to eat, who doesn't get to eat. How do I keep my child? Do I keep my child warm or do I give my child food?

BLOCH: The WFP is boosting its distribution of food rations. Thakral says it needs $2.6 billion, or 220 million per month, to keep Afghans fed.

Hannah Bloch, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHELIAN'S "INTRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hannah Bloch
Hannah Bloch is lead digital editor on NPR's international desk, overseeing the work of NPR correspondents and freelance journalists around the world.