Afghan women, clad in burqas, walk in Herat province, Afghanistan, October 14 2018. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMMAD ISMAIL
Afghan women, clad in burqas, walk in Herat province, Afghanistan, October 14 2018. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMMAD ISMAIL

At least 3-million Afghans are in "urgent" need of food and could face famine if they do not get help, the UN warned on Monday, as the war-torn country battles the worst drought in living memory.

A dry spell mainly across northern and western Afghanistan has devastated crops, livestock and water supplies, forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The drought comes at a terrible time for the country, which is already grappling with a 17-year conflict and is preparing to hold a parliamentary election that is three years late.

The UN is spearheading international efforts to reach 2.5-million of the 3-million most in need of food by mid-December, UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Afghanistan Toby Lanzer said.

"Those people are surviving on less than one meal a day and in all likelihood that meal is bread and tea."

Lanzer said the 3-million people hardest hit were in the "emergency" phase four of a widely used food insecurity index – one level below famine.

The figure was "among the highest in the world" and they needed "the most urgent response", he said.

"If we don’t [reach them] there’s a risk that these people go into level five," Lanzer said.

Aid groups distributed basic commodities, including wheat flour fortified with minerals, oil and lentils, to 600,000 people in September, Lanzer said.

They hope to reach another 600,000 by the end of October. Another 8-million people were in the "crisis" phase three of the food insecurity index, which includes people with "food consumption gaps with high or acute malnutrition".

Lanzer said the figures were "far worse than we had anticipated" and he warned the situation could deteriorate as temperatures fall during the winter months. The drought affecting more than half of Afghanistan was triggered by a huge shortfall in snow and rain last winter.

Many of the displaced have set up makeshift tents in camps on the edge of urban areas.

Afghan officials and foreign aid groups are struggling to meet demand for food, shelter and health services.

AFP

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