KABUL - After weeks of hard work to provide food aid to Afghan communities cut off by snow, the UN World Food Programme is shifting gear to help Afghans facing floods created by melting snow and torrential rains, which have burst river banks, damaged roads and flooded villages in various parts of the country.
In southwestern Farah province, WFP will today start urgently needed food distributions to Afghans hit by floods. A total of 25 tons of wheat, rice and pulses were sent to the province last week. This food should cover the most immediate food needs of nearly 5,000 people.
WFP had already made contingency plans to provide assistance to people affected by the floods, which were expected to hit as the snow melted, but have been exacerbated by heavy rains over the last few days. This is believed to be the severest winter in this Central Asian country in two decades.
With the help of aircraft supplied by coalition forces and with road convoys often held up by snow for days on end, WFP succeeded in delivering food to more than 100,000 snowbound Afghans over the past few weeks. The past few days, however, have brought a sudden change in weather - and a fresh problem for tens of thousands of people.
"Even before the snow began to melt, WFP warned of possible floods and has since been preparing assistance to flood prone areas," said Michael Jones, WFP Deputy Country Director for Afghanistan and acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator. "Pre-positioning of food allows us to provide timely assistance in Farah, as well as in other regions at risk in the country, such as central Uruzgan province."
Following a flash flood in Uruzgan's Deh Rawud district on 18 March, leading to the evacuation of 400 people to Uruzgan's capital Tirin Kot, WFP was able to draw on a total of 110 tons of food available in the city. In Deh Rawud itself, WFP delivered 230 tons of food, including ten tons that were airlifted by coalition forces in the last two days, enough to feed 25,000 people for one month.
While food is being transported to the major flood plains of southern Helmand and Nimroz provinces, pre-positioning is under way in central Ghor province. Out of 32 tons planned for pre-positioning in Doliana district of Ghor, seven tons have already been dispatched by truck and the remaining 25 tons will leave on March 24. Similarly, 28 tons of food are ready to be distributed to over 300 families affected by floods in northern Baghlan province.
WFP is also continuing to provide food assistance to tens of thousands of Afghans in areas that were snowbound only days ago in the centre and south of the country. The winter emergency response is part of a wide scale humanitarian relief operation launched by the UN in support of government efforts to provide relief to people worst hit by this year's winter.
In Ghor province, over 230 tons of food have been distributed to nearly 37,000 people so far, while WFP is preparing for the delivery of follow-up assistance to southern Zabul province, after completing the distribution of 609 tons of food to 67,000 people over the last month.
The emergency has been mitigated by the fact that WFP provides assistance to vulnerable people in snowbound areas every year. Before this emergency, WFP had already pre-positioned 21,000 tons, or a staggering 21 million kilograms, of food in remote areas throughout Afghanistan, enough to address the food needs of over a half million people during the winter.
Even before the harsh wintry weather, WFP was aiming to provide food aid to nearly six million people this year in Afghanistan, where much of the population suffers high levels of poverty, poor nutrition and limited access to education and health care.
WFP's overall operational budget in Afghanistan is US$341 million from April 2003 to September 2005. To date WFP still faces a shortfall of over 25 percent of total funds.
Major donors to WFP's operations in Afghanistan include: the United States (US$133 million), Japan (US$37 million), India (US$26 million), the European Commission (US$17 million), Canada (US$6 million), Italy (US$8 million), the International Committee of the Red Cross (US$3 million), the United Kingdom (US$3 million), Switzerland (US$3 million), Saudi Arabia (US$2 million), Denmark (US$2 million), Luxembourg (US$1 million), Netherlands (US$1 million) and Ireland (US$1 million).
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.
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