The head of the World Food Program in Afghanistan said Wednesday that the humanitarian crisis in that country is growing at “an incredible pace,” and it is now a “race against time” before winter sets in.   

“Winter is on our doorstep,” Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP’s country director in Afghanistan, told reporters virtually from Kabul. “We have a harsh winter in Afghanistan. With fuel prices going up, people are going to struggle to feed themselves and keep themselves warm.”  

Before the Taliban swept into Kabul on August 15 and took over the government, the country was already in a crisis due to a combination of years of drought, conflict, corruption and then the coronavirus. More than 18 million people needed humanitarian assistance, including 14 million who were food insecure. Two million children are at risk of severe malnourishment.   

The U.N. says the number of people in severe need is expected to increase as food and fuel prices skyrocket and jobs dry up.   

McGroarty said the crisis has escalated at an “incredible pace” since August.

“I was out in Kabul today, and the situation it is just desperate,” the aid official said. “I had women crying at me for food, because, again, the work has dried up. There is no work. There is no opportunity to find food.”  

She said many women told her they have only a bit of dry bread and water to eat.  

The country is also experiencing a severe economic and financial crisis. Overwhelmingly dependent on foreign assistance to support its economy, the arrival of the Taliban has seen that funding dry up.   

“We need to find solutions to get the economy restarted,” McGroarty said.   

She warned that without a solution, it is “a matter of probably weeks” before the Afghan economy collapses.   

U.N. agencies reached five million Afghans with assistance in September, and WFP reached 3.8 million with food assistance.   

The U.N. has appealed for nearly $606 million for the rest of this year and has only received a little over one-third of that amount.   

 

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