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Coordinated action key to avoiding food tragedy - WFP

WFP says food aid is not the answer to the crisis of food-insecurity and that the Afghan government and donors should work on a comprehensive strategy.
(Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN)

The Afghan government, UN agencies and donors must work together to tackle worsening food insecurity resulting from rising food prices, and avoid a humanitarian tragedy, a senior UN World Food Programme (WFP) official said.

“The WFP, the UN, donors [and] most especially the government - we are all committed to avoiding a humanitarian tragedy… I am confident that with government leadership, strong donor support and active work by the UN we can avoid a humanitarian tragedy,” Anthony Banbury, WFP’s regional director for Asia, told reporters in Kabul.

“But we all need to do our part; it won’t be easy; it will cost money [and] it will take a lot of work,” he said.

Afghanistan is severely affected by unprecedented hikes in staple food prices and millions of its already vulnerable people have been pushed into facing the risk of starvation, aid agencies warn.

With US$77 million of donor funding, WFP is currently delivering emergency food aid to 2.5 million most vulnerable Afghans who cannot afford food.

WFP also feeds millions of other Afghans through its food-for-work and education incentive programmes across the country.

The joint UN and government emergency “safety-net” programme which kicked off in March is expected to end in July 2008. However, millions of most vulnerable Afghans will most probably remain dependent on food aid, Banbury said.

“The question that we have been looking at is what will happen after July,” he said, adding that the prospects for a good domestic harvest and an end to high prices did not look promising.

Long-term solution

At least 18 million of Afghanistan’s estimated 26.6 million people are food-insecure and cannot meet their daily food and nutritional requirements, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

WFP said its humanitarian relief operation cannot tackle food insecurity in the war-torn country, and that this could only be achieved by a comprehensive strategy, including adequate investment in agriculture. A FAO expert recently said the country had tremendous agricultural potential.

“WFP has stressed that the answer to these challenges must come through a comprehensive strategy to deal with long-term challenges posed by higher prices… and that food aid through WFP or anyone else is not the answer to this problem,” said WFP’s director for Asia.

Afghanistan is the world’s fifth least developed country and more than half its population live on less than US$2 a day, according to the country’s 2007 national human development report.

Fragile stability

With food prices - critically wheat flour - having risen by over 100 percent since March 2007, food is rapidly becoming inaccessible to many ordinary Afghans, some of whom have been forced into desperate measures such as eating grass or moving out of their home areas in search of food.

Meanwhile concerns are mounting that food inaccessibility will have a negative impact on Afghanistan’s already fragile stability. Hungry youth may be driven to crime or into the arms of the Taliban.

Hungry mobs attacked trucks carrying commercial food items in the eastern province of Nangarhar and food riots were also reported in other parts of the country over the past two weeks.

“I will do whatever I have to - robbery, killing others or blowing myself up - if my children are hungry and I cannot give them food,” said one middle-aged man in the southern province of Kandahar.

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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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