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The Azadi Briefing: Fears Of A Famine Mount In Afghanistan

A malnourished baby is weighed at the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul. (file photo)
A malnourished baby is weighed at the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul. (file photo)

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Frud Bezhan, regional desk editor for Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP) has warned that it is just “days away” from cutting assistance to 9 million people in Afghanistan if it does not immediately receive funding. The WFP delivers food, cash, and other assistance in emergencies.

“We urgently need $93 million to assist 13 million people in April and $800 million for the next six months,” the WFP said in a tweet on March 29.

Hsiao-Wei Lee, country director for WFP Afghanistan, said that “catastrophic hunger knocks on Afghanistan’s doors and unless humanitarian support is sustained, hundreds of thousands more Afghans will need assistance to survive.”

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 worsened an already major humanitarian crisis and triggered an economic meltdown. Foreign governments immediately cut development funding and imposed sanctions on the new government.

For the past 20 months, multibillion-dollar aid packages have prevented a widespread famine. In 2022, the WFP received around $1.7 billion from international donors, including the United States and European nations. But donors have reduced funding this year, rekindling fears of a famine.

Why It's Important: Aid groups have repeatedly warned that emergencies in Ukraine, Turkey, and Syria, challenging global economic conditions, and the Taliban’s ban on women working for NGOs could lead to a drop in donor funding for Afghanistan.

The WFP’s stark comments are one of the first tangible signs of foreign governments and institutions pulling back from Afghanistan.

Aid groups now face the worst-case scenario in Afghanistan: reducing or ending food assistance to the estimated 20 million Afghans -- or around half of the population -- who are "acutely food insecure."

What's Next: It is unclear if the WFP, which is funded entirely by donations, will be able to raise the funds it needs to continue its life-saving assistance in Afghanistan.

If it does not, there could be catastrophic consequences for Afghans, 6 million of whom are already on the verge of starvation.

The Week's Best Stories

Matiullah Wesa, a widely known and respected campaigner for education in Afghanistan, was beaten and arrested by the Taliban in Kabul on March 27. His arrest on unknown charges has sparked an international outcry and highlighted the Taliban's intensifying crackdown on educators and dissent.

U.S. forces left a trove of weapons behind when they withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021. Some of those arms have turned up in neighboring Pakistan, where they have been used by armed groups. Experts say the Pakistani Taliban and ethnic Baluch separatist groups have obtained M16 machine guns and M4 assault rifles, night-vision goggles, and military communication gear.

Former Afghan university student Farzana Haidari operates a sewing machine in Ghor Province. She had nearly completed her degree in Persian language and literature when the Taliban banned education for women. Since seizing power, the regime has broken its pledges to allow education access and professional careers for females.

What To Keep An Eye On

At least 10 people have been killed and nearly 100 injured by heavy rain and flash floods that have struck Afghanistan, the Taliban-run National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said on March 30. Spokesman Shafiullah Rahimi said around 1,000 homes have been destroyed.

The areas most affected have been the northern provinces of Parwan and Balkh, as well as the southern province of Uruzgan.

"The floods are a calamity. It’s a disaster,” Sufi Faqir, a farmer in Parwan, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, adding that his fields were destroyed.

Gholam Dastagir, a shopkeeper in the provincial capital, Charikar, told Radio Azadi that his shop was flooded and his goods ruined. “Now, we don’t have any money to buy food,” he said.

The NDMA has warned of snowfall and more heavy rain in the coming days.

Why It's Important: Scores of Afghans die every year from floods and torrential downpours, particularly in impoverished rural areas where poorly built homes are often at risk of collapse.

Decades of conflict, coupled with environmental degradation and insufficient investment in disaster risk reduction, have contributed to the increasing vulnerability of Afghans to natural disasters, according to the UN.

Recent floods and earthquakes are likely to aggravate the country’s humanitarian and economic crises.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan said that “aid agencies are assessing the impact and providing aid where needed” following the latest floods. But it added that “limited funding is constraining their ability to scale up” aid to those affected by the floods.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at

Note: There will be no Azadi Briefing on April 7.

Until next time,

Frud Bezhan

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the regional desk editor for Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2012, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

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