ROME - The United Nations World Food Programme warned today that more than one million needy Afghans could face severe food shortages in the next few months because of a lukewarm response from donors for its relief operation in that country.
WFP officials expressed concern for the 1.5 million Afghans the agency plans to feed in its new operation because they are already struggling with spiralling wheat flour prices, which have risen as much as 70 percent over the last four months.
The entire Afghan population is beset by the high prices because of the poor 1999 harvest and an alarming drop in imports of wheat flour, the country's main food staple, after neighbouring countries closed their borders with Afghanistan late last year to stop smuggling of the commodity.
"All this has come at a time when WFP is grappling with a very low level of stocks, said Mike Sackett, WFP Country Director for Afghanistan, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. "Right now, we have enough to feed the targeted groups only until April."
"Only a replenishment of our stocks and a regional trade policy change that takes into account the acute needs of people in Afghanistan will prevent a further rise in wheat prices and food insecurity all over the country," Sackett added.
On 1 January, WFP launched an $88-million operation to feed nearly 2.6 million of the most vulnerable people over a two-year period. But the appeal for funds is currently running a shortfall of some 82 percent.
If the shortage in wheat supplies and the low level of WFP stocks persists, Sackett warned, WFP will be unable to meet all the needs of hundreds of thousands of hungry Afghans, who would undoubtedly face additional hardship in the run-up to Afghanistan's main harvest in July.
A recent WFP/FAO crop assessment shows that Afghanistan needs about 1.1 million metric tons of wheat this year to supplement its domestic production, which fell dramatically because of last year's poor rains. Private traders were expected to import some 800,000 tons, while WFP planned to distribute some 115,000 tons to make up the shortfall. However, WFP's current total stocks for Afghanistan are less than 24,000 tons.
Flour prices started to increase in October as a result of more vigorous border controls that curtailed food smuggling from neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, which is Afghanistan's main wheat supplier. In Kabul, where WFP-supported bakeries feed some 266,000 people, prices shot up by 52 percent since October.
Last year, WFP, the world's largest food aid agency, provided more than 90,000 tons of food assistance through bakeries, emergency distribution and food-for-work schemes to help more than 1.2 million people obtain their minimum food needs throughout Afghanistan.
The World Food Programme is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. In 1999 WFP fed more than 86 million people in 82 countries - more than half were girls and women.
For more information, please contact:
WFP Afghanistan Country Director
Tel: +92 51 826710