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UN food agency begins to airlift supplies for hungry Afghans

UN food agency begins to airlift supplies for hungry Afghans

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today began an airlift of more than 2,000 metric tonnes of food from south-western Pakistan for delivery to remote areas of northern Afghanistan.

The agency is delivering the aid by Ilyushin cargo aircraft via Turkmenabad in neighbouring Turkmenistan.

"The Ilyushins will enable us to get food immediately into our warehouses in Turkmenabad so that we can send it by truck into the less accessible regions of Afghanistan," said Daly Belgasmi, WFP's regional manager for Central Asia.

North Afghanistan is considered to be the country's "hunger belt," where WFP is seeking to help about 3 million people stay alive until the harvest next year. The agency needs to airlift 7,000 tonnes of wheat from Quetta to Turkmenabad to cover the gap in supplies to north Afghanistan. However, due to limited resources, only 2000 tonnes could be sent in the coming few days. The United States has announced that it will provide $2 million to WFP to cover the cost of the operation.

Turkmenabad is an important logistical hub in the WFP regional emergency operation because it straddles the border with Uzbekistan and sits on routes leading both east and west.

WFP, which first began working in Afghanistan in 1964, is now carrying out a $230 million operation aimed at feeding up to 7.5 million Afghans, including 6 million people inside the country. The food aid agency, the largest in the world, is undertaking the airlift as another means of meeting its target of shifting 52,000 metric tonnes a month into Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said it was encouraged by progress being made in establishing new refugee sites in Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province in Pakistan. The agency also estimated the total number of new arrivals from Afghanistan since September 11 at approximately 135,000.