KABUL - The United Nations World Food Programme is battling snow to reach cold, hungry and isolated communities in Afghanistan's central Ghor province, where tens of thousands of impoverished people have been largely cut off from the outside world and are in urgent need of emergency assistance.
WFP and its food distribution partner, Catholic Relief Services, managed to reach Shahrak district by road to hand out food in one of the areas most severely hit by the extreme Afghan winter - the harshest for several years. Elsewhere in the mountainous province, where trucks have been unable to proceed due to bad road conditions, WFP, in collaboration with the Government and the forces of the US-led Coalition, is preparing for food airdrops.
On 20 February, about 3,400 people in Shahrak district received 18 metric tons of wheat, pulses and oil to meet their immediate food needs. Another convoy with 25 tons of food should reach the affected town before the end of this week.
WFP's emergency response to the deteriorating conditions in Ghor province is part of a wide scale humanitarian relief operation in support of government efforts to assist Afghans who have been worst hit by the current severe winter conditions.
"The situation is particularly worrying in central Ghor and southern Zabul provinces, where food is being delivered to 50,000 of the most affected people," WFP Afghanistan Representative Charles Vincent said.
The current emergency has been mitigated by the fact that WFP had already positioned 21,000 tons of food in remote Afghan areas, some of which often become inaccessible in the winter months due to heavy snowfall.
In Zabul, WFP has been able to deliver 251 tons of various food commodities to nearly 5,500 families in some of the worst affected districts, including about 85 tons airlifted by military helicopters to remote locations that were impossible to reach by land. As the roads to Sajoy, Dychopan, Mizan, and Shinkai districts of Zabul province are now becoming accessible, WFP food convoys are ready to deliver 264 tons of food to 12 affected districts in this province.
WFP has also been struggling to reach Saghar and Tulak districts of Ghor province to provide assistance to some 15,000 people. Six trucks with 140 tons of food have been stranded for three weeks about 60 kilometres from the affected areas due to heavy snow. Snow removal equipment is on its way to the area and should clear the mountain pass by next week.
Until land transport is made possible and at the request of the Government, the Coalition Forces are planning two food airdrops to bring 40 tons to these two inaccessible districts. WFP has already prepared the required food commodities, including wheat and pulses.
To help reopen the land route, WFP has mobilized 600 workers to work with shovels to remove snow from blocked roads to allow the aid convoys to get through.
"People in affected areas urgently need medicine, blankets, and food," said Vincent.
Following the clearance of additional snowbound roads, WFP is going to send more food to various districts in Ghor to cover the needs of an additional 5,200 people. Additional food will be positioned in various areas with high risk of flooding over the coming few weeks as snow begins to melt.
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 is affected by high levels of poverty, poor nutrition and limited access to education and health care. A total of US$41.8 million is required to meet a shortfall of 68,000 tons of food up to September.
Major donors to WFP's operations in Afghanistan include: the United States (US$126 million), Japan (US$34 million), India (US$26 million), the European Commission (US$17 million), Italy US$8 million), Canada (US$6 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 we give food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million children, in more than 80 countries.
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