With a break in food supplies looming in Afghanistan in March, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today called on donors to immediately make up an $11-million shortfall in critical funds to feed 3.5 million vulnerable people.
“Basically we don’t have enough food for vulnerable communities as they come out of winter and head into the lean season prior to the summer harvest,” WFP Country Director Charles Vincent said. “The international community must renew its efforts to help vulnerable Afghans.
“With cash, we will be able to buy commodities in the region to distribute to the most vulnerable hungry poor Afghans. Without cash, the lean season will be also very bleak for many,” he added, saying that the funds were needed to finance WFP’s current operations until June.
Operations are already being cut back to cope with the shortage. Food-for-work projects, which involve communities building local infrastructure such as roads and bridges in exchange for food rations, are being delayed. Food that has been pre-positioned in provinces in case of an emergency is now being dispatched to tuberculosis patients.
Poor and hungry schoolchildren who receive take-home food as an incentive to attend school will receive at most half of their usual ration and in some cases none at all.
A recently completed national food security and vulnerability assessment by the Government revealed a worrying picture of poor dietary diversity, poverty, debt and widespread food insecurity. Most farmers in Afghanistan do not harvest enough food to meet their consumption needs for an entire year, and many sell their assets to access capital or borrow against next year’s crop, putting them in the vicious debt cycle. Some sell their daughters to wipe off debts.
In many instances, poor food consumption with little variety in diet is likely to increase malnutrition and degenerative diseases among the most vulnerable, especially young children.
“Afghanistan needs more than a quick fix – it needs sustained and targeted support to help it out of its crushing poverty,” Mr. Vincent said.
Meanwhile, more than 7 million children under the age of five will be vaccinated against the crippling polio virus next week in a joint initiative between the Ministry of Public Health, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
In another development, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will resume its voluntary repatriation programme from Pakistan on Wednesday after stopping it during the harsh winter months. UNHCR estimates 400,000 people will return to Afghanistan from Pakistan in the coming year.
Last year UNHCR helped more than 500,000 Afghans make a return home, with an estimated 440,000 coming from Pakistan. Meanwhile the repatriation programme from Iran is ongoing. Though the winter months are traditionally a period of low returns, 200,000 Afghans are expected to return from Iran in 2006.
Overall 4.2 million Afghans in all have returned to their homeland, mainly from Pakistan and Iran, since the fall of the Taliban, the biggest organized repatriation since the UNHCR was created in 1951.
In yet another development, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that it has completed its annual agreement with the Government to provide up to $61 million worth of financial and technical support to several ministries in the areas of health, education and protection of women’s and children’s rights.
Finally, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that UN-backed effort to disband private militias in the war-torn country received a boost this month when commanders loyal to the legendary General Abdul Rashid Dostum surrendered hundreds of weapons, including rocket propelled grenade launchers, machine guns, carbines, an anti-aircraft gun, more than 100 AK-47 assault rifles and anti-tank mines.