Facing severe shortfall, Tajikistan needs food assistance, UN agency says

Facing severe shortfall, Tajikistan needs food assistance, UN agency says

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for urgent food aid for 1 million people who are suffering from a devastating two-year drought in Tajikistan, one of the poorest of the former Soviet Republics.

Tajikistan, still struggling with the aftermath of a gruelling five-year civil war and facing severe economic hardships, is suffering from a crippling regional drought that has also afflicted neighbouring Afghanistan, the UN agency said. But donor support for WFP operations in Tajikistan has been much less.

WFP said it urgently needed some 67,000 metric tonnes of food, worth $36 million, to cover the needs of the most drought-affected people from January to June 2002.

Tajikistan's cereal output in 2001, estimated at only 303,000 metric tonnes, was down by 36 per cent compared to the average of the last five years, according to WFP. Tajikistan needed more than 1 million tonnes of cereals a year for domestic consumption. With commercial imports not expected to exceed 400,000 metric tonnes, Tajikistan will have to grapple with an uncovered gap of 341,000 metric tonnes until mid 2002.

"A gap of this magnitude, if unmet, will have a dramatic impact on one million Tajiks who live in remote and mountainous areas" said Ardag Meghdessian, WFP Tajikistan Country Director.

"The spectre of famine looms for many of these people, who have already depleted their meagre savings and have virtually no employment opportunities" Mr. Meghdessian warned. "We have to help them survive the harsh winter."

WFP has been active in Tajikistan for the last eight years, providing some 168,000 tonnes of food assistance to the most affected by civil war and crop failures.

"We are hoping that the generosity of the donor community towards the drought victims in Afghanistan will extend further north and help the hungry poor in Tajikistan, who are suffering from the same drought," said Mr. Meghdessian.