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Short on funds, UN food agency suspends some projects in Afghanistan

Short on funds, UN food agency suspends some projects in Afghanistan

Facing a multi-million dollar funding gap for its work in Afghanistan, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to cut back on its projects in the country.

The agency's Emergency Operation in Afghanistan currently faces a shortfall of 215,400 tons of food worth approximately $123 million - or 43 per cent of the total requirements, WFP spokesman Alejandro Chicheri told reporters in Kabul on Sunday. "Consequently, the food pipeline situation has not improved and has resulted in the continued suspension of project activities by implementing partners," he added.

Describing the cutbacks, he said "measures have been taken to scale down distributions, some Food for Work rehabilitation projects have been suspended, returning refugees and internally displaced persons are now receiving a third of their re-settlement packages, and food assistance to civil servants may be curtailed in the near future."

The agency has been supporting the return of thousands of Afghan refugees by providing them with food packages. "If we do not receive significant cash contributions soon, we are concerned about our continued ability to assist with the return of the refugees," the spokesman said.

Also briefing reporters, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Nigel Fisher, said recent studies had revealed widespread food shortages in the country. "Most households are vulnerable to food shortages now and in the foreseeable future," he said. Describing the fallout from this problem, he said "the coping strategies that families are using are sale of their assets and livestock, mortgage of land, taking on of debt, reduction of dietary intake and migration for labour."

An often-overlooked result was the practice of families giving their girls away in early marriage so they wouldn’t have to feed them, he said, adding that there were a number of cases of boys being sent to Iran and to Pakistan to work. “These are some of the more hidden problems facing such families,” he said.

Overall shortages would force aid agencies "to make difficult choices which will leave a lot of people unhappy," Mr. Fisher said, stressing that unless there was a massive influx of resources into Afghanistan from international community, the outlook did not seem positive.