Thousands of students attending 40 schools in Afghanistan’s central Ghazni Province have not received food assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) for over a month due to insecurity in the area, local officials told IRIN.
“We have been unable to distribute wheat given to us by WFP to schools in some districts due to insecurity,” said Mohammad Shafiq Hemat, deputy director for the education department in Ghazni.
Insecurity and increasing attacks on its food convoys have impeded WFP’s movement in the south, west and some parts in the east of Afghanistan, WFP said.
“In the last 12 months, WFP has lost 600 tones of food, valued approximately at US $400,000, in 25 different attacks,” said Jackie Dent, a WFP spokeswoman in Afghanistan.
The attacks have mostly taken place on a major road which traverses most of the volatile south, southwest and southeastern provinces where armed clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan government forces, backed by international forces, have restricted aid activities.
Six million children in school
According to the Afghan government, of up to six million children - 35 percent of them girls - are enrolled at more than 9,000 schools around the country.
So far this year, some 1.2 million children have received food rations, which include wheat and oil, Dent said.
WFP distributes biscuits fortified with micronutrients to around 1.4 million poor schoolchildren in order to boost their nutrition, reduce short-term hunger and enhance their ability to concentrate and learn.
On 5 July, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that 6.5 million Afghans, among them children, suffer from chronic food insecurity.
Up to 72 percent of Afghan children under five years of age have iron deficiency, according to a national nutrition survey conducted by the government of Afghanistan and the UN in late 2004.
Afghanistan is one of WFP’s biggest areas of operation in the world with more than six million beneficiaries, of which 3.5 million are chronically poor, WFP told IRIN on 8 July.
With a $377 million budget for a three-year programme in Afghanistan, the food agency is expected to distribute 520,000 metric tonnes of food aid to vulnerable Afghans, Dent said.
In addition to food assistance to schoolchildren, WFP runs food-for-work projects in many parts of the country enabling vulnerable communities to benefit from food aid in return for communal work.
No formal request
While WFP has repeatedly raised concerns about restrictions on its truck movements in some parts of Afghanistan, an Afghan official said the organisation had not formally requested the government to provide security for its aid convoys.
|In the last 12 months, WFP has lost 600 tones of food, valued approximately at US $400,000, in 25 different attacks.|
“We will be ready to provide armed escorts to WFP’s trucks,” said Zemarai Bashari, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior.
However, Bashari conceded that due to insecurity, festered by an armed insurgency, in southern parts of the country a large number of police officers had been killed in recurrent armed clashes.
“We also call upon NATO and US forces to help us ensure security in the south so that WFP can undertake its humanitarian operations,” Bashari added.
WFP usually uses unmarked commercial trucks to transport food aid in different parts of the country.
Truck drivers reject armed escorts
However, a senior UN official in Kabul who did not want to be identified told IRIN that truck drivers who transport food aid had repeatedly rejected armed escorts for security concerns.
“A one-time armed escort will identify them as collaborators [to the government or international forces] which will cause long-term problems for us,” a truck driver said in Kabul.
The UN has followed a cautious line in identifying and blaming assailants who have virtually halted its food programme in large swathes of Afghanistan.
“Whatever their motives, they are contributing to the already considerable hardship of the poorest Afghans who need assistance more than ever,” said Rick Carsino, WFP’s country representative.