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UN and the Afghan government urge for aid

Jan 24, 2008

Food crisis in Afghanistan is deepening by the day. Afghan government has expressed its inability to tackle the food insecurity on its own and has appealed together with the UN for US $ 80 million assistance to avert this humanitarian tragedy.

Kabul: The government of Afghanistan and the UN have jointly appealed for over US$80 million to assist 2.55 million Afghans who have been pushed into “high risk” food-insecurity due to a steep rise in staple food prices.

The Joint Appeal for the Humanitarian Consequences of the Rise in Food Prices was launched on January 24 by the second vice-president of Afghanistan, Karim Khalili, and the acting special representative of the UN Secretary-General in the country, Bo Asplund.<image 1 right medium >

“This joint appeal is on behalf of 425,000 extremely poor Afghan families, who otherwise will be unable to meet their most basic need - that of food - especially during the current harsh winter months… I urge all donors to respond generously to the appeal, to ensure that these families can feed themselves, and so that the most vulnerable, who are predominantly children and women, do not succumb to malnutrition,” Asplund told donor representatives and reporters in Kabul.

Food prices, particularly wheat and wheat flour, have increased by 60-80% across Afghanistan in the past few months, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This has pushed at least 1.41 million people in rural and 1.14 million in urban areas into high-risk food-insecurity.

“Afghanistan is requesting assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) and other international partners to provide a temporary safety net for 425,000 vulnerable rural and urban households (2.55 million beneficiaries) with low purchasing power,” the appeal said.

The government of Afghanistan alone does not have the capacity to tackle the current food crisis, the appeal said. The country does not have any grain reserves to manage food shortages.

Food aid

Three UN agencies - WFP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) - will lead the humanitarian intervention, albeit in collaboration with various government and non-government actors.

The joint humanitarian assistance operation will be conducted from February to June 2008.

Over 90% of the requested funds will by used by WFP to purchase about 89,000 metric tonnes of foodstuffs (wheat, pulses, cooking oil and iodized salt) for a targeted population of 2.55 million.

The food aid will be distributed through food-for-work and similar programmes and WFP will use “best distribution modalities to ensure the food assistance reaches the most vulnerable”.

WFP’s goal will be to prevent the targeted people from resorting to coping strategies that may destroy their household assets and damage their ability to cope with future shocks.

Health and nutrition

UNICEF and WHO will spend over $2 million on a number of health and nutrition activities, which will specifically target children under-five, pregnant and breastfeeding women.

At least 459,000 under-fives and 229,500 pregnant and breastfeeding women are among the affected population, UN agencies and the government estimate.

UNICEF will use about $1 million to conduct a rapid nutrition needs assessment and, based on this, the organisation will procure and distribute micronutrient supplements and therapeutic feeding supplies. 

Meanwhile, WHO will provide essential drugs and nutrition supplies to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and will train provincial health workers to do emergency life-saving interventions.

The overall objective of UNICEF and WHO’s intervention is to avert avoidable morbidity, mortality and disability due to malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.

Early warning

At least 28% of Aghans are “severely food-insecure”, 33% are borderline, and up to 38% are considered to be food-secure, according to the UN agencies operating in Afghanistan. This means that people in “266 out of 398 districts” in Afghanistan are living with “either very high or high risk” of food-insecurity. Afghanistan’s population was a little over 26 million people in 2006, according to the UN Population Division.

Wheat flour, used to make bread, is the major staple food on which more than half the Afghan people spend over 56% of their family earnings, said Bo Asplund, who is also the UN resident humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan. 

If there is no immediate intervention “there is a high probability that the majority of the under-five children, pregnant women and lactating women will suffer from severe forms of malnutrition leading to increased mortality,” warns the joint appeal.

“Our people will face a humanitarian tragedy, if we fail to reach and assist the vulnerable groups,” Khalili said.

Source : IRIN
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