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WFP prepares for greater role

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is increasingly looking at Iran as a viable springboard for getting more food aid into Afghanistan. "Our objective is to promote the western corridor," Marius de Gaay Fortman, the WFP country representative in Iran, told IRIN in the capital, Tehran, on Monday. "At the moment, about one third to one fourth is going through Iran. Half the caseload in the north could easily be accessed from Iran," he said.

As of 22 November, WFP's operations there had delivered 828 mt of wheat to the western Afghan city of Herat, and over 5,000 mt to Turkmenabad in Turkmenistan for delivery to the north, with thousands more tonnes in stock, dispatched or in transit. There were some 3.2 million beneficiaries in the north who could be served from Iran, de Gaay Fortman said.

Bringing food aid through the southern province of Kandahar is currently unsafe, rendering Iran and areas in the north logistically more conducive. "It is an opportunity for Iran to show what is possible here," he said. Although deliveries between the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad and Herat depend on security conditions, a continuing flow of food to Turkmenistan is being maintained.

Describing the operation as both transit and cross-border in dimension, de Gaay Fortman explained that consignments from Mashhad had been limited, because Herat could be reached from the western Pakistani city of Quetta, and it was also was being served from the north. WFP was planning to send larger quantities to Herat from Iran as soon as local purchases picked up, something which to date had proved rather slow, he said.

Asked how their logistical capacity had changed since 11 September, de Gaay Fortman noted that WFP in Iran had established field offices in the cities of Mashhad, Zahedan, Chabahar (Chah Bahar) and Bandar-e Abbas, as well as warehouses in Tehran, Mashhad and Zahedan. Additionally, ground support in the country had been greatly enhanced.

Regarding concerns and priorities, he said they were managing some 100,000 mt between local purchases and the arrival of new shipments in the port at the same moment in a country which had never seen this type of emergency before. Although WFP maintains it has received enormous support from the Iranian foreign and interior ministries, more time is needed to meet needs and expectations. "Too few people have discovered that this is an enormous political, social and economic opportunity for the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said.

"In most quarters there is a very positive attitude to our relief operation. The substantial efforts the government of Iran itself has been making should be acknowledged," de Gaay Fortman said. He noted that Iran had an excellent infrastructure of roads, airports, warehouses and ports to facilitate such an operation.

"Iran has great potential also for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, but it, too, has to be developed," he stressed. He noted in this respect that despite the strong government support WFP was receiving, clearance of relief goods in the ports, as well as local wheat purchases, remained problematic.

Despite security hazards, WFP is sending food aid convoys into Afghanistan overland from Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and through a river corridor from Uzbekistan, and by means of airlifts from Tajikistan, in an effort to meet its target of distributing 52,000 mt a month inside the country.

WFP believes that about six million Afghans within the country and another 1.5 million outside it require food aid. The food agency is racing against time to replenish food stocks for millions of hungry Afghans and to pre-position food stocks before winter snows cut off vital overland routes.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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