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Afghanistan on brink of famine, aid agency warns


Foreign aid organizations say food shortages and early snows may leave eight million Afghans -- 30% of the population -- on the brink of starvation this winter. Famine could easily overtake violence as the country's top problem. "The current situation is extremely fragile," said Susannah Nicol, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program(WFP) in Kabul... Last week, the Afghan Health Ministry said more than 1.6 million children under the age of five and hundreds of thousands of women could die as a result of food insecurity and a lack of medical care. "Afghanistan is threatened with a winter of starvation," said Ulrich Delius, a consultant in Asia with the German human rights organization The Society for Threatened Peoples...

[49775]



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Afghanistan on brink of famine, aid agency warns

Peter Goodspeed

7food_insecurity.jpg

Girl eating fruit outside camp of displaced (Photo: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)


Last week, the Afghan Health Ministry said more than 1.6 million children under the age of five and hundreds of thousands of women could die as a result of food insecurity and a lack of medical care.

December 16, 2008


Foreign aid organizations say food shortages and early snows may leave eight million Afghans -- 30% of the population -- on the brink of starvation this winter. Famine could easily overtake violence as the country's top problem.

"The current situation is extremely fragile," said Susannah Nicol, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program(WFP) in Kabul.

Soaring world food prices, drought and increased insecurity from a growing Taliban threat are taking their toll.

"This year people are paying on average 1½ times as much as they were in December, 2007," Ms. Nicol said. "An average household in 2005 was spending about 56% of their income on food. That figure has risen to 85%."

With winter settling in early, the WFP has rushed 36,000 tonnes of food--enough to feed 950,000 people -- to areas that are normally inaccessible during the winter because of heavy snow. But international aid agencies still estimate five to 10 million Afghans out of a population of 26.6 million might not have access to enough food before the winter is out.

Britain's Royal United Services Institute has warned drought and high food prices have already created conditions for a "calamitous famine."

"Afghanistan may be on the brink of a calamity which has the potential to undermine much of the progress which has been achieved there," the British think-tank says in a recent report.

"When temperatures plummet and snow cloaks the Hindu Kush, millions of desperate Afghans will look to the UN, ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and their own government for help or survival. If the international community is found wanting, we can expect increased frustration and anger from a population which once saw the international intervention in Afghanistan as a source of hope."

Last week, the Afghan Health Ministry said more than 1.6 million children under the age of five and hundreds of thousands of women could die as a result of food insecurity and a lack of medical care.

"Afghanistan is threatened with a winter of starvation," said Ulrich Delius, a consultant in Asia with the German human rights organization The Society for Threatened Peoples.

Attacks on aid convoys in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the early onset of winter are making it increasingly difficult to get supplies through to desperate people, he added.

"Taliban fighters make no distinction between convoys with aid supplies for the civilian population and transports with supplies for foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan," he said.

Since January, more than 30 aid workers have been killed and 80 employees of foreign aid agencies have been abducted. Twenty-six WFP food convoys have been attacked and supplies that could have fed up to 100,000 people for a month have been destroyed. More recently, the Taliban has been attacking supply convoys as they pass through the Pakistani city of Peshawar and the Khyber Pass.

"WFP did experience an attack in the Peshawar area recently where 610 tonnes of food was lost," Ms. Nicol said. "Of course, this was a minor blow, as the loss of any food would be. However, since then the security situation on that route has improved."

Still, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says conditions are becoming increasingly difficult for foreign aid workers.

"The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, due to a combination of natural disasters, lack of government capacity to prepare and respond, as well as increased violence and military action that cause serious problems of access and raise concerns over the protection of civilians," a recent UN report said.

"More than 40% of Afghanistan is either permanently or temporarily inaccessible for humanitarian partners."

Impoverished rural areas are more vulnerable than ever since a continued drought this summer cut the wheat harvest by 36%.

Traditionally, up to 30% of Afghans are said to be "chronically food insecure," with the most vulnerable living in the central highlands and the extreme northeast and northwestern parts of the country.

"Obviously the winter is an unknown factor in terms of how harsh it will be," Ms. Nicol said.






:: Article nr. 49775 sent on 22-dec-2008 06:40 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=49775

Link: www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2008/12/16/afghanistan-on-brink-of-famine-aid-agency-wa
   rns.html




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