KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The number of people in Afghanistan resorting to selling land or turning to friends or family for help because of food insecurity has doubled in the last year, according to a joint report released on Sept. 10 by the United Nations (UN) and partner agencies. 

The 2015 Seasonal Food Security Assessment in Afghanistan (SFSA), published by the country's Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC), found that at the peak of the lean season the number of Afghans facing severe food insecurity increased from 4.7% of the population 12 months ago to 5.9% today. This means more than 1.5 million people are now considered severely food insecure, an increase of more than 317,000. Another 7.3 million people, more than one in every four Afghans, are classed as moderately food insecure.

Of greatest concern is the finding that the proportion of severely food insecure people who have already exhausted their capacity to cope with these emergencies has increased, meaning many more are now forced to sell land, take children out of school to work, or depend on relatives for support. The SFSA report indicates that the number of people engaged in these last ditch actions  has doubled over the past year to more than 20% of food insecure people across the country. This will leave even more Afghan people significantly vulnerable to extreme poverty.

"When people resort to these measures, they have no resilience against future shocks," said Claude Jibidar, representative and country director of the UN World Food Program (WFP) in Afghanistan. "These figures are extremely alarming, especially in a country where more than one third of all people are already food insecure. This report could portent a future spike in the next 12 months in the need for food and other humanitarian assistance."

"Although Afghanistan will produce slightly more wheat this year, a large number of poor and hungry people will not be able to purchase food from the market," said Tomio Shichiri, FAO representative in Afghanistan. "It is a question of access to food rather than its production. Special attention needs to be given to female-headed households and displaced people to improve their access to, and improvements of, agriculture-based livelihoods." 

The report shows that female-headed households are almost 50% more likely to be severely food insecure than other households in Afghanistan, having a much poorer diet than their peers and a much lower income. Women who head their household are also twice as likely to use emergency coping strategies, such as begging.  People displaced from their homes by conflicts or disasters, particularly those living in tents, also suffer from poor diets.  Khost and Paktika provinces, which host over 35,000 displaced households (more than 200,000 people), need immediate support to prevent food insecurity from worsening.  

FSAC, FAO, WFP and the government report that a lack of funding could exacerbate this problem even further. "It is the last resort when farmers start selling productive assets such as livestock, machinery or land," said Abdul Majid, FSAC coordinator. "This is not only a loss for farmers but for the entire community, as skills and means for agricultural production will be lost, saturating the urban labor market." 

"It is striking to know that one third of the Afghan population is food insecure and their situation continues to worsen," said HE Assadullah Zamir, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. "We request the donor community to continue assisting the most vulnerable Afghans before it becomes too late."

Access the full report, here.