As tens of thousands of Afghans mass along the borders of neighbouring countries, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced the start of an emergency airlift to depots in Pakistan, Iran and Turkmenistan in preparation for the expected influx of refugees.
The agency was set to dispatch two aircraft - each filled with 50 metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits - from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot based in Brindisi, Italy, to Peshawar on Pakistan's northwest frontier.
Two more aircraft are expected to depart Brindisi on Friday, delivering an additional 100 tonnes of biscuits to Peshawar. According to WFP, that cargo will be offloaded and transported by truck to Quetta in Baluchistan province, southwest Pakistan.
The UN agency is also scheduling two additional flights to deliver 50 tonnes of biscuits to Mashhad, northeast Iran on Saturday and 15 tonnes to Ashgabat in southern Turkmenistan on Sunday.
High energy biscuits are critical in the early stages of a humanitarian emergency when people are on the move and cooking facilities are limited; the 265 tonnes WFP is airlifting out of Brindisi will be enough to feed nearly 1 million people for one day.
WFP is already providing food aid to some 117,000 Afghan refugees sheltering in Pakistan and a further 35,500 in Iran, all of whom have fled their country's devastating cycle of drought and war. The UN warned that those figures could rise sharply over the coming weeks as thousands more Afghans, fearing a military strike, flee their homes and head for the borders.