Covid-19 means hunger to Afghans as more than 50% of the population live below the poverty line. Although the country is officially in lock down, many people are forced to choose between staying home hungry or venturing outside to find work, risking infection.
Initially, food prices soared up to 70% for common staples largely because of panic buying and disruption to food supply chains. Afghanistan is largely dependent on its neighbours for the basic supplies and imports around 4.5 million metric tons of wheat every year. Due to the closure of borders and difficulties in transit with Pakistan, Iran, and other neighbouring countries in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the normal flow of food imports has changed. The availability of fortified foods, rich in micronutrients, has decreased and prices have gone up to two or three times more. For example, one bag of wheat flour (49Kg) has increased from 1300 AFN ($20) to 1900 AFN ($28). Vegetable prices have also risen, for example, the price of 2kgs of tomatoes increased from 1$ to $2 and 1kg of beef meat increased from $5 to above $6.
In addition, at the beginning of Covid-19, people and traders started to store food items which caused a price increase. This may further increase the barriers to achieving a healthy diet with an adequate intake of micronutrients for pregnant and lactating women, who are usually the most marginalized groups during emergencies in many settings.
As of today, Government has controlled prices to some extent, largely through convincing regional neighbours like Kazakhstan and Pakistan to open borders and allow food exports to Afghanistan. Despite this intervention, prices remain higher by as much as 30%.
In the current situation, people require food assistance. The government thrives when businesses pay taxes and generate revenue. As an aid -dependent country, the Afghan Government has suffered on all fronts and the grim challenge of Covid-19, significant aid cuts, no exports, and significantly reduced collection of revenue has significantly weakened their ability to provide effective public services.
We call on the government to increase cross-sectoral investment in agriculture and expedite planned infrastructure projects in order to provide water to the agricultural lands. The biggest victory for Afghan government would be to improve its agriculture.
Secondly, we call on the international community to work with local CSOs to provide food packages (only $30 to feed a family of 7) to the neediest and support livelihood interventions.
Nasrullah Arsalai (SUN Focal point Afghanistan), Syed Muqadas (Co-Chair ACSA-FSN)
Photo credit: Lynsey Addario / Save the Children