Millions of Afghan's face bleak winter without food aid

Published on 24 May 2006

Due to a critical shortage of funds and resources, WFP will soon be forced to abandon plans to provide around 2.7 million of the poorest and most vulnerable Afghans with vital food aid to help them through the winter.

Due to a critical shortage of funds and resources, WFP will soon be forced to abandon plans to provide around 2.7 million of the poorest and most vulnerable Afghans with vital food aid to help them through the winter.

The lack of funds also threatens to halt many of WFP’s regular food aid activities.

By undermining development, severe cuts could foster greater insecurity – something that many donors are spending vast amounts trying to prevent.

Anthony Banbury, WFP Regional Director for Asia

Following its similar and highly successful operation last year, WFP is aiming to pre-position 25,000 tonnes of aid in remote areas between August and October – before thousands of isolated and food-insecure communities are completely cut off by Afghanistan’s severe winter snows.

But WFP currently has no resources to carry out the pre-positioning operation and unless substantial sums are donated in the coming weeks, there is little likelihood that sufficient supplies – particularly wheat – will arrive in time.

Tough decision

“The last thing WFP wants is to cancel our winter aid programme because this will leave millions of Afghans with no hope of food assistance for months – from the onset of winter until the snows start to melt in spring,” said Anthony Banbury, WFP Regional Director for Asia, who was on a visit to Afghanistan.

“But unless donors come forward quickly, we will soon be forced to take this tough decision because we have so little wheat in our warehouses and almost none in the pipeline.”

Due to the serious logistical challenges posed by Afghanistan’s poor infrastructure and mountainous terrain, WFP will only be able to complete the pre-positioning programme if supplies arrive in the country in July and August.

To meet this deadline, donations must be received in the next few weeks.

Pre-positioning under threat

“Last year’s successful pre-positioning operation helped millions of Afghans to cope with the worst winter weather by providing them with vital nutritional support,” said Banbury.

“If we have to cut our operations this year, thousands of families will go hungry. Such a negative development would undermine the broader stabilisation objectives of the Afghan government and donors.”

And it is not just the winter pre-positioning programme that is under threat.

WFP faces an overall shortfall of 49,000 tonnes of food aid until the end of 2006 out of a total requirement of 106,000 tonnes. The agency needs an additional US$31 million to fund its activities for the rest of the year.

Food-for-work halted

Some aid projects – such as a few food-for-work schemes – have already been halted but WFP’s funding crisis is so dire that more drastic cuts are certain from August onwards, unless donations are received soon.

Without additional funds, it is likely that WFP will decide to halt more – or perhaps even all – of its food for work activities, which help communities to build or repair vital assets, such as roads, bridges, schools and canals, while providing participating families with their minimum food requirements.

In 2005 alone, WFP beneficiaries constructed or renovated 4,000km of roads and 5,000km of canals – achievements that will not be equalled this year.

Other operations at risk

In the worst case scenario, WFP will also have to suspend – or severely reduce rations for – many of its other successful operations, which provide aid to illiterate men and women while they are taught how to read and write or to widows and war-affected children while they are taught skills such as bee-keeping and silk-making or to TB patients while they undergo their lengthy course of treatment.

Hundreds of thousands of people could lose out each month.

“Major reductions in our operations will not only endanger the health of millions of Afghans but also the country’s fragile recovery and many of the gains made over recent years,” said Banbury.

“By undermining development, severe cuts could foster greater insecurity – something that many donors are spending vast amounts trying to prevent.”

School feeding secure

Fortunately, WFP’s extensive school feeding programme is secure.

Thanks to a generous donation of fortified biscuits from India, worth more than US$20 million, WFP has enough supplies to keep providing a daily ration to 1.5 million boys and girls in class for the rest of the school year.

However, WFP’s school feeding operations – and the government’s attempts to promote education across the country – are being undermined in some areas by a worsening wave of attacks on schools and threats against teachers.

Schools burned

Many schools have been burned or closed down, leaving thousands of children with nowhere to study.

“WFP condemns this violent campaign against schools by groups who view education as a threat rather than a right,” said Banbury.

“Education is essential for the development of every child and every community – as well as the nation as a whole. And WFP remains totally committed to supporting the Afghan government’s attempt to give every child the chance of a brighter, educated future.”