5 Million Afghans at Risk for Severe Food Shortage, Says Agency

( [email protected] ) Sep 03, 2008 12:37 PM EDT

Five million people in Afghanistan are facing severe food shortages with winter drawing near and donors falling drastically behind in submitting funds, said an international relief agency.

Less than a fifth of the $404 million needed to feed at-risk Afghans have been turned in, said U.K.-based Oxfam.

"Large parts of Afghanistan are facing crisis as a result of the cumulative effect of factors including the harsh winter, high food prices, drought, and increasing and spreading insecurity,” the charity said in a statement Saturday.

In some areas in Afghanistan, people are said to be facing the worst food crisis in more than 20 years.

Oxfam noted that it is “almost impossible” to deliver aid to rural areas during the Afghan winter, and that action is needed now.

"This is a race against time, the international community needs to respond quickly before winter when conditions deteriorate," said Oxfam's head of policy in Kabul, Matt Waldman, according to Agence France-Presse.

Waldman highlighted that 1 million young children and half a million women are at serious risk of malnutrition if action is not quickly taken.

The charity, in a letter, asked development ministers around the world to help it meet the needed funds to avoid the food disaster.

"We believe the current situation requires a major humanitarian response," the letter stated.

"If the response is slow or insufficient, there could be serious public health implications, including higher rates of mortality and morbidity, which are already some of the highest in the world," it said.

Afghanistan is a poor and undeveloped country perhaps best known for being the hideout of Taliban terrorists. Insurgency-related violence ravages the country, which is also struggling to tame a thriving opium production problem.

Besides security and drug problems, Afghanistan also has the second-worst infant mortality rate in the world with about one in six babies dying before their first birthday. About six out of every 100 mothers die before childbirth.

The United States has poured billions into the country to root out Taliban terrorists and help develop the government with little success.