Islamabad (Office of the United Nations
Co-ordinator for Afghanistan), 11 February 2000 -- The price of wheat
in Kabul has increased almost 50% since October, said Michael Sackett at
the press briefing today in the Office of the UN Co-ordinator for Afghanistan.
Sackett is the Country Director of the United Nations World Food
Programme (WFP) for Afghanistan. Overall, he added, purchasing power
for those lucky enough to find a job has slipped by one-third over the
Sackett said that Afghans face two major food-related problems at present. The first is a shortfall of about 1.1 million tonnes of wheat this year, compared to 700,000 tonnes the previous year. Moreover, few people have enough money to buy food due to the collapse of the economy and lack of employment.
Sackett attributed the price rise to three main causes: a 16% drop in wheat production in 1999; dry weather in much of southern and central Afghanistan up to mid-January 2000; and border restrictions imposed by the government of Pakistan. "Some wheat is still trickling in, but much less than before," he said. "It adds up to a triple whammy for the people of Afghanistan," he said.
Calling Kabul "one of the poorest cities in Asia," Sackett said that WFP recently started a winter food-for-work programme that will employ 8,000 workers in repairing infrastructure in and around Afghanistan's capital city. In southern Afghanistan, which has been hard hit by the controls on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, WFP is conducting a winter emergency food distribution of 7,200 metric tonnes of food for 29,000 vulnerable families, or 180,000 people.
In response to a question, Sackett said that while the rise in prices has not caused starvation, there has been a steady increase in malnutrition, especially among children less than five years old, which is expected to continue. He added that WFP is currently carrying out surveys to obtain more information on this trend.
In recent talks with the Government of Pakistan, he noted that WFP had warned Pakistan that a continued clamp down on commercial food imports to Afghanistan might reduce the likelihood of Afghan refugees returning home and might increase the chance that Pakistan would become host to more new refugees.
"Resources are a problem," Sackett concluded. "We expect to have enough food in stock until the end of May, but the prospects after that are still uncertain."
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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