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World food shortage pushing Afghanistan to starvation: official

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Ryan Cormier, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Saturday, May 10, 2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Export restrictions and higher taxes in neighbouring countries are worsening an already dire food crisis in Afghanistan.
Rick Corsino, the World Food Program’s director in Afghanistan, said international response to a recent appeal for aid was impressive, but in a global food emergency, donations don’t go as far as they usually do.
The branch of the program strives to buy food at reasonable prices in the region, but other nations in south-central Asia have their own food issues to deal with.
Pakistan is expected to see its own wheat production drop this year.
“In a way, it’s understandable. They are reluctant to export when they already expect to have their own shortfall,” Mr. Corsino said from Kabul. “This means it’s taking more time to get the food here, which is a worry.”
On May 1, Canada announced it would donate an extra $50 million in food aid in response to a global plea from the United Nations for $755 million to assist in what has been called the worst food crisis in decades. An estimated 100 million are going hungry in the midst of it.
Of that $50 million, a fifth was earmarked for Haiti, but none specifically for Afghanistan. Still, the program applauds Canada as one of its top donors.
However, the money won’t last.
Aid from recent appeals will help feed Afghans until July, Mr. Corsino estimated. However, the crisis is likely to last much longer.
“At that point, we need to look at two unknowns — how the harvest year turns out and which way the food prices go,” he said. “Quite likely, we’ll need another appeal.”
The price of wheat has doubled in Afghanistan in recent months.
At the beginning of 2007, the average rural family in Afghanistan spent 60 per cent of its income on food. Now, the same family spends more than 75 per cent of its income to feed themselves.
Afghans in the province of Kandahar have brought up the crisis with Canadian troops repeatedly in the last few weeks. Some farmers have labelled it a larger concern than their own security.
“The price of flour is rising day by day,” a representative from central Panjwaii district recently said at a shura meeting, through a translator. “Flour and wheat are low in the district. This is very significant and important for the Panjwaii. This is becoming an emergency.”
The situation is made worse in Kandahar, where the majority of Canadian troops are stationed, because years of conflict in the area have left large numbers of widows and orphans.
“These people get pushed farther and farther,” Mr. Corsino said. “They begin to give up small things, then they move on to larger ones like health care and school fees.”
After that, malnourished Afghans will begin to sell their farm implements and anything else that will bring in money. Mass immigration from rural areas to the cities then follows, which the World Food Program is seeing “right across the country.”
Years of war, poverty, consistent drought and harsh winters in Afghanistan all contribute to a lack of food.
On a diet that is almost exclusively tea, bread and rice, one in five Afghans — and more than 40 per cent of children under the age of five — are undernourished.
In February, Canada donated $10 million in response to an Afghanistan-specific appeal made by the Afghan government and the UN. That donation translated to about 12,000 tonnes of wheat.
Canada’s food contributions this year total $231 million.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

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Written by afghandevnews

May 10, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Food security

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