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Seeking to stave off hunger in Afghanistan, UN agencies speed up food deliveries

Seeking to stave off hunger in Afghanistan, UN agencies speed up food deliveries

United Nations agencies are working to prevent widespread hunger in Afghanistan, where drought and war had severely hampered food production even before the recent military operation, UN officials said today.

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, Stephanie Bunker called attention to the famine-like conditions prevailing in much of Afghanistan. "After years of war, massive displacement and successive droughts, Afghan agriculture has greatly suffered," she said. "Food production inside the country has progressively declined."

Meanwhile in New York, members of the UN Security Council voiced their concern about the humanitarian situation in the country. In a press statement, Council members reiterated their call on all Afghan forces "to refrain from acts of reprisal, to adhere strictly to their obligations under human rights and international humanitarian law, and to ensure the safety, security and freedom of movement of UN and associated personnel, as well as personnel from humanitarian organizations."

Efforts to provide food to hungry Afghans are being led by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which has been increasing its deliveries in recent days, according to agency spokesman Khaled Mansour. "We are sending 48 trucks loaded with more than 1,300 tonnes of food for Kabul today - this is enough for about 160,000 people for one month," he said.

"Despite the tragic events on the Jalalabad-Kabul route, where western journalists were reportedly killed, Afghan truck drivers whom WFP uses on this route feel confident that they can resume deliveries today as planned," he noted.

Mr. Mansour also reported that WFP female staff in Kabul, who had been prohibited from working by the Taliban, were back in the office. "This is a very significant development," he said, adding that a meeting had been held on Monday with 18 women to discuss future programmes.

For its part, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is preparing to dispatch several tonnes of high-protein biscuits and unimix (a high protein type of porridge), for supplemental feeding of malnourished children in the Mazar area, according to agency spokesman Chulho Hyun.

As the UN steps up its humanitarian effort on behalf of millions of people inside Afghanistan, relief workers are faced with an acute shortage of equipment and offices, which have been extensively looted in recent clashes, Ms. Bunker noted. "Now that control over many cities has switched hands, the same offices in some cases have been looted and vandalized a second time."

In another development, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva that Iran was gearing up for a possible large-scale, organized return of Afghan refugees in the country. UNHCR officials in Tehran met with Iranian authorities on Tuesday to discuss the development of a repatriation plan.

Meanwhile, spontaneous returns through Iran's main border crossing to the north-east continued on a daily basis, UNHCR said. Many of the returnees are young men who had fled to Iran during the Taliban rule to escape forced conscription.