KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — With more than half of Afghanistan’s population facing food insecurity, the Taliban’s interim government reportedly has launched a program offering wheat to thousands of people in exchange for labor, according to a report from the Hindustan Times.

Zabijullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, said in a recent press conference that the program will be rolled out in major Afghan cities, with the intention to employ 40,000 people in Kabul alone, the report said.

The United Nations’ World Food Programme estimates that 22.8 million Afghan citizens will face acute food insecurity starting in November. The WFP said the combined impacts of drought, conflict, COVID-19 and the economic crisis have severely affected lives, livelihoods, and people’s access to food.

 The report’s findings come as Afghanistan’s harsh winter looms, threatening to cut off areas of the country where families desperately depend on humanitarian assistance to survive the freezing winter months.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report has found that more than one in two Afghans will be facing crisis (IPC Phase 3) or emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity from November 2021 to March 2022, requiring urgent humanitarian interventions to meet basic food needs, protect livelihoods and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

The report also noted that this is the highest number of acutely food insecure people ever recorded in the 10 years the UN has been conducting IPC analyses in Afghanistan. Globally, Afghanistan is home to one of the largest number of people in acute food insecurity in both absolute and relative terms.

“It is urgent that we act efficiently and effectively to speed up and scale up our delivery in Afghanistan before winter cuts off a large part of the country, with millions of people — including farmers, women, young children and the elderly — going hungry in the freezing winter,” said Qu Dongyu, director-general of the FAO. “It is a matter of life or death. We cannot wait and see humanitarian disasters unfolding in front of us — it is unacceptable.”

David Beasley, executive director of the WFP, said food security in the country has all but collapsed.

“This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our life-saving assistance, and unless the economy can be resuscitated,” he said. “We are on a countdown to catastrophe and if we don’t act now, we will have a total disaster on our hands.”

The IPC report reflects a 37% increase in the number of Afghans facing acute hunger since the last assessment issued in April 2021. Among those at risk are 3.2 million children under age 5 who are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. In October, the WFP and UNICEF warned that 1 million children were at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition without immediate life-saving treatment.

In August, the United States pulled its military out of Afghanistan after a 20-year occupation. In just a few weeks, the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization, assumed control of the government.