The faces of the children suffering from severe malnutrition in Afghanistan

With millions of people starving across Afghanistan, it is often the children who are hardest hit, reports ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

These children are among millions in Afghanistan who are suffering from malnutrition as food, work and vital medicines become scarce for families across the country.

The Red Cross and the Red Crescent predict that 3.2 million children under the age of five in the country will suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year.

A combination of the Taliban's takeover, a life-threatening, prolonged drought and the Covid-19 pandemic has created a "ticking time bomb", said the charities.

And children are among those most at risk. There has been a 20% increase in children suffering "severely" from malnutrition, with many parents too poor to afford basic care.

ITV News gained access to Afghanistan's largest children's hospital, Indira Gandhi in the capital Kabul, where medics are dealing with an epidemic of malnutrition, while other children are suffering with heart diseases and diarrhoea.

But medics themselves are facing severe hardship. They haven't been paid for three months, while they are struggling to treat dying children amid a chronic shortage of medicine due to international sanctions.

Maryann Horne, of the International Federation of Red Cross, told ITV News that Afghans are "bracing themselves for what will be one of the harshest winters that they have known".

"Time is running out. We're sitting on a ticking time bomb and humanitarian aid must flow into Afghanistan," added Ms Horne, the senior advisor on humanitarian crises.

"If we stand a chance of alleviating some of the harshest impacts of the current crisis that is shaping up."

ITV News can show the faces of nine children whose families have travelled up to hundreds of miles in a desperate bid to get them life-saving treatment.


This is Maryam's third time in hospital Credit: ITV News

This is Maryam. She is affected by malnutrition and currently has a very critical health condition

It is the third time she has been admitted to hospital in the past two months. Maryam and her family, who are from the province of Nangarhar, travelled around 126 miles to get her medical attention at the Indira Gandhi children's hospital in Kabul.

Maryam's father is a daily wage worker and is desperately trying to take care of his five children.

"I am unable to feed my children," he told ITV News.


Khusbo is in a critical condition Credit: ITV News

In the bed next to Maryam is 18-month-old Khusbo.

Her family, who come from one of the poorest provinces in the country, Kunduz, have sold everything to be able to get her to the children's hospital.

Khusbo is in a critical condition as she too is suffering from malnutrition. She currently weighs just 7kg (just over 15 pounds).


Five-year-old Parwana Credit: UNICEF

Five-year-old Parwana is so emaciated, even UNICEF aid workers at a mobile clinic, in the western city of Herat, were shocked at her state.

Her upper arm measured just 8cm.

Sam Mort, an aid worker for UNICEF Kabul, said: "The first thing that I thought of was a broom handle.

"Her upper arm was so thin and scrawny, it took my breath away.

Even UNICEF aid workers were shocked at how thin Parwana's arm was Credit: UNICEF

"It was easy then to understand why this little girl who weighed 9kg and should've weighed double that, was barely able to lift her head and showed no interest in anything going on around her."


Khalida's mother cannot afford the urgent medicine she needs Credit: ITV News

This is 18-month-old Khalida. Her mother told ITV News she cannot afford food or medicine needed to stop her diarrhoea.

Khalida is also suffering from acute malnutrition and is being treated in Kabul.

Her mother said her family is in an "extremely bad financial condition" as her husband, also a daily wage worker, is struggling to find work.

"Compared to the past, our situation has worsened because previously my husband was working but presently, he hardly finds work," Khalida's mother told ITV News.

"We will only be able to feed our child if we get the hospital’s support and help."


Tamanna is just eight months old Credit: ITV News

This is Tamanna. She is just eight months old.

Tamanna is suffering from acute malnutrition and currently weighs 8kg (17.6 pounds). The average weight for a girl of her age is 10kg (22 pounds).

Her family travelled from the province of Takhar to the children's hospital in Kabul - more than 237 miles away - in a desperate bid to save her life.


Madeena is suffering with kwashiorkor Credit: ITV News

Madeena is nine months old. She is suffering from the most severe form of malnutrition, kwashiorkor.

Like Khusbo's family, Madeena's parents have also travelled all the way from Kunduz - around 209 miles away.


Maiwand is also struggling with one of the most severe forms of malnutrition Credit: ITV News

Three-year-old Maiwand is also suffering with kwashiorkor.

He weighs just 11kg (about 24 pounds). The average weight for a boy of his age is 13kg (around 29 pounds).

Maiwand's family travelled to Kabul from Kapisa, which is among the poorest provinces in the country.


Lida's family, like many, travelled to the capital to get her urgent treatment Credit: ITV News

Lida is just seven months old. Her family have also come from Kapisa - 75 miles away.

She, like so many others, is also suffering from malnutrition. She weighs just 8kg (just over 17-and-a-half pounds).


Huma's parents travelled for hours to get to the hospital Credit: ITV News

Huma, three, has also been diagnosed with the most severe type of malnutrition, kwashiorkor.

Like Tamanna's family, Huma's have travelled for 237 miles to get her life-saving treatment in Kabul.