Babies dying as malnutrition spikes among children in Afghanistan

A child at Children’s Hospital in Kabul. Sept. 19, 2022.

The number of dangerously malnourished children admitted to Save the Children’s mobile health clinics in Afghanistan has increased by 47% since January this year, with some babies dying before managing to receive any treatment, the children’s charity said Monday.

According to the organization, demand for malnutrition treatment services has surged in recent months as families struggle to cope with Afghanistan’s worst hunger crisis on record.

Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Chris Nyamandi, warned Monday that humanitarian organizations like Save the Children are stretched to the absolute limit trying to stop children dying from hunger every day in Afghanistan.

“Every day we’re faced with the heart-wrenching decision – which children do we save? It’s outrageous and horrifying to think that international leaders have the power to save these children’s lives – by working to solve the economic crisis and reinstating humanitarian funding and long-term development assistance that was withdrawn when the Taliban retook control – but they have been too slow to find solutions and now children are dying as a result,” he said.

In January, Save the Children’s 57 mobile health teams admitted about 2,500 malnourished children for treatment. By September, that number had increased to around 4,270 children admitted by 66 teams, according to newly released data.

Experts had hoped to see a drop in hunger levels in Afghanistan during the recent summer harvest season, but the ongoing drought has led to failed crops and harvests have been much smaller than normal, forcing many rural families to sell land and livestock to buy food to feed their children.

The other major driver of the food crisis – the collapse of the country’s economy – has caused unemployment, poverty and food prices to skyrocket, with many families now only surviving on bread and water for weeks at a time.

Nyamandi meanwhile stated that humanitarian organizations have been sounding the alarm on Afghanistan for more than a year now and that it’s time the world stopped ignoring this catastrophic crisis and took action before many more children lose their lives.

Six million are close to famine

Humanitarian organizations have provided vast amounts of life-saving food, but the needs are so high that 50% of Afghanistan’s population is still facing extreme hunger, with six million children and adults – nearly one eighth of the population – one step away from famine.

Save the Children doctors say they are overwhelmed with malnourished children – especially young girls who are often deprioritised when it comes to breastfeeding and complementary feeding compared to boys – and cannot keep up with the demand for services.

Nelab, 22, comes from a family of farmers who have been hit hard by the drought. Her three children have all suffered from severe acute malnutrition, including her three-year-old daughter Maryam, who did not receive treatment in time and died on the way to hospital.

While Nelab’s son Mohammad, 2, has recovered, her other daughter, Parsto, who is just 11 months old, is still dangerously malnourished.

“There has been less rain than usual so if we plant something it doesn’t grow and then that makes the food really expensive,” she said. “When there’s no food, the children go hungry or we borrow money.”