WFP ships food to remote valley in Afghanistan

ROME -- The United Nations World Food Programme today sent 13 tons of food across Afghanistan front lines to stave off a severe food crisis for tens of thousands of people stranded in the remote and embattled Panjshir Valley.
The shipment of wheat flour was the first food aid to reach this isolated mountain valley in eastern Afghanistan, which is controlled by the Northern Alliance, since early December. A WFP staff member traveled to the valley with the convoy to assess accurately food needs in the wake of reports of movements of people into and out of the valley.

The valley is a cereal deficit area: local agricultural production cannot meet the food needs of both the 145,000 permanent residents - who are already forced to import up to 35 percent of their cereal needs -- and the 50,000 people who arrived last year to escape fighting in northern Afghanistan.

WFP had been transporting food to the valley by means of northern access routes until early October last year, but these routes are now closed by snow. In December, WFP sent some 750 tons of food to the valley also across the front lines separating the Taliban and the Northern Alliance troops.

"This new convoy resumes the desperately needed food aid WFP has been providing to people displaced by earlier fighting in the Shomali plains. WFP tries to meet the needs of these people regardless of whether they have moved to the Panjshir Valley or to the Afghan capital, Kabul," said Mike Sackett, WFP Afghanistan Country Director.

The challenge facing WFP of feeding the displaced people there is made more difficult by the extraordinary transportation problems in one of the most isolated regions of the world. WFP delivery trucks have to contend with very poor mountain roads, dangerous front lines, and long, circuitous routes imposed by the region's geography.

From the north, there are only two mountain passes open for transportation into the valley, which is more than 2,500 meters above sea level at its northern end. The two passes, the Anjuman and the Khowah, are shut down completely during the winter. The only lifeline for the inhabitants during these harsh winter months has to pass through the front line separating the two warring factions.

The Panjshir Valley displaced population are among the 1.5 million people in Afghanistan receiving food assistance from WFP in a relief operation that will continue until the end of next year at a cost of $88 million.

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 including the majority of the - more than half were girls and women.

For more information please contact:

Khaled Mansour, WFP Regional Information Officer.
Tel: +92-827150 Ext.2433
Cell: +92300-500989

Karina Schmitt, WFP Programme Officer (Kabul)
Tel: +873-761-851625/8

Heather Hill, WFP Public Information Officer/Rome
Tel: +39-06-6513-2253
Cell: 0348-3187056