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As 2022 starts, most Afghans don't have enough food to eat

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As 2022 begins, most people in Afghanistan don't have enough food. Millions are facing hunger and starvation amid a prolonged drought and economic crash following the Taliban takeover in August. NPR's Hannah Bloch reports from Islamabad.

HANNAH BLOCH, BYLINE: It's January, and for the overwhelming majority of Afghans, it's bleak.

SHELLEY THAKRAL: There's 98% of people who are just not getting access to food. So they're not having milk, they're not having dairy, they're not having meat because they can't afford it - probably less fresh vegetables, less fruit.

BLOCH: That's Shelley Thakral, the World Food Programme spokesperson for Afghanistan. More than half the population - some 23 million Afghans - are facing what the WFP calls extreme levels of hunger. Malnutrition is soaring. Afghanistan has seen hunger emergencies before, but Thakral says one thing that's different this time is...

THAKRAL: We're also seeing a new urban class of hungry people.

BLOCH: People who've lost their jobs and never imagined they'd go hungry are scrounging and standing in line for food aid.

THAKRAL: So we've been speaking to people who are - have - were schoolteachers or construction workers scavenging for whatever food that they can find.

BLOCH: Some Afghans have resorted to desperate measures, selling household goods, furniture, clothing - in some cases even selling their own children into early marriages. And then there's the winter snow.

THAKRAL: And when that layer of snow - it's brutal, kind of bitter cold. So if you don't have money to buy food, you certainly don't have money to buy fuel or firewood to keep warm.

BLOCH: Which leaves people having to make a terrible choice between staying warm and keeping fed.

THAKRAL: You know, it shouldn't be a lottery of life about who gets to eat, who doesn't get to eat. How do I keep my child? Do I keep my child warm or do I give my child food?

BLOCH: The WFP is boosting its distribution of food rations. Thakral says it needs $2.6 billion, or 220 million per month, to keep Afghans fed.

Hannah Bloch, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHELIAN'S "INTRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.