By 2024, about 8 million children in Afghanistan would be suffering from extreme hunger.

Almost eight million children in Afghanistan – or one in three – will enter the new year facing crisis levels of hunger as freezing conditions threaten communities already reeling from drought, earthquakes, and economic hardship, according to Save the Children.

New figures released by the IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification), the global hunger monitoring system, predict an increase in the number of people experiencing crisis or emergency levels of hunger in Afghanistan during the winter months, although the situation has improved compared with the same period last year.

An estimated 15.8 million people – more than a third of the country’s population – are expected to experience acute food insecurity before March 2024. Almost half of those, or 7.8 million, are children.

During the winter, employment opportunities are reduced, and food and fuel prices usually rise, according to the IPC.

“Afghanistan is experiencing disaster after disaster – floods, earthquakes and droughts have uprooted children’s lives,” Arshad Malik, Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, said.

“An estimated 7.8 million children will enter 2024 not having enough to eat. Hunger – combined with bitterly cold weather in large parts of Afghanistan – will create a perilous situation for children. Their nutritional needs must be met. Insufficient funding is putting lives at risk each passing day,” Arshad added.

Zeba*, a mother to a seven-month-old girl, and her family are bearing the brunt of this crisis. “Sometimes we don’t have bread to eat, and we sleep hungry. Seeing my child getting weak day by day and crying for food is devasting,” she revealed.

Afghanistan is also having to cope with rising numbers of Afghans returning from Pakistan and Iran.

About 460,000 people have crossed back into Afghanistan since September after Pakistan told undocumented foreigners to leave, with an additional 345,000 returning from Iran, according to the de facto authorities in Afghanistan.

Thousands of Afghan refugees who crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan were found to be experiencing alarming levels of serious illnesses that are escalating quickly, including life-threatening and highly contagious acute diarrhoea.

More than 3,000 cases of acute respiratory infections and 1,200 cases of diarrhoea in children were reported last month.

This is being driven by families having limited or no access to clean water for drinking and washing, and people being forced to defecate in the open due to a lack of toilets.

The vast majority – or 80% – of people returning to Afghanistan are women and children, with nearly one in four returnees children under five, and over 60% of returnees estimated to be children.

Afghanistan has faced three consecutive cuts in food assistance this year. Families who have lost their homes and food stocks due to consecutive earthquakes in Herat in the country’s northwest remain extremely vulnerable.

For people in Afghanistan already living in economic hardship, winter brings even more challenges. Last year, a brutally cold snap in January killed at least 160 people when temperatures plummeted to –34 degrees Celsius.

Edris*, 30, has been living in a makeshift tent with his family since the devastating earthquakes that killed more than 2,000 people in Herat province in October.

Like 48,000 others, his home was damaged. It snows heavily in Herat and Edris is worried about his three children spending the bitterly cold months in a tent he would previously have used for his animals. Without shelter his animals are unlikely to survive the winter, leading to a massive loss of income for the family.

“Our homes are not usable, and we don’t know how we can survive this winter. The winter is approaching and it’s too cold in these places. It will be covered with snow for weeks, the ways to travel will be blocked and these areas will be freezing,” said Edris.

The UK’s decision to slash aid to Afghanistan by almost 60% this year could not have come at a worse time. Despite the dire level of need, Afghanistan is now at risk of becoming another of the world’s forgotten crises, Save the Children warns.

“As well as immediate humanitarian funding to meet basic needs, we need to see concerted efforts to address the root causes of this hunger crisis, which is driven by a combination of climate change, economic instability, lack of jobs and high food prices,” Save the Children’s Arshad Malik said.

“We also need to see the international community resuming basic needs programming to support the recovery of the Afghan economy.”

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