Afghanistan Needs `Berlin Airlift’ to Avoid Famine, RUSI Says
By Ed Johnson
Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) — Afghanistan needs urgent international
aid, akin to the Berlin airlift 60 years ago, to stave off the
threat of famine that could see villagers turn against the
government, a London-based defense institute said today.
An estimated 8.4 million Afghans, a quarter of the population,
don’t have enough to eat because of drought and rising food prices
and will depend on emergency supplies to survive this winter, the
Royal United Services Institute said.
Famine poses a greater threat to the country than the spiraling
Taliban insurgency and the international community must “mount an
intensive air operation to deliver life-saving aid,” RUSI analyst
Paul Smyth said in a briefing note.
The U.S-led airlift beginning in 1948 delivered more than 2.3
million metric tons of food, fuel and medicine to West Berlin to
circumvent a Soviet blockade. Planes landed every three minutes in
the effort that lasted 462 days. While the aid operation to
Afghanistan would be smaller, it would be “strategically
significant” and help prevent local frustration and anger against
the government and NATO-led forces, the institute said.
Food shortages are compounding the problems facing President
Hamid Karzai’s government, which is battling Taliban fighters
mainly in the south and east of the country.
The United Nations and the government in Kabul appealed in July
for $400 million to assist vulnerable Afghans in the nation of
almost 33 million people.
“Reports already indicate that Afghans are migrating in search
of food, some are eating grass and a tiny number have died of
starvation,” RUSI said. “Afghanistan may be on the brink of a
calamity which has the potential to undermine much of the progress
which has been achieved there.”
Insurgent attacks on aid convoys compound the food shortages,
RUSI said. “Help must come from farther afield, swiftly, and to
any part of the country,” it said. “An airlift meets these
The country needs 25,000 metric tons of supplies before winter
and another 70,000 tons before February 2009, RUSI said, citing
the World Food Programme.
Airlifting such a quantity of aid “should be well within the
international community’s military capacity, if it has the will,”
The WFP estimates that 24.9 million people in Afghanistan live
below the poverty line. A risk assessment in 2005 found that 6.6
million Afghans don’t meet their minimum food requirements, a
problem compounded by drought this year in the south, east and
southwest of the nation, according to the UN agency.
The country faces a cereal shortfall of 2 million metric tons
and the WFP says it intends to send food assistance to about 1.8
million people each month until next year’s harvest.
The insurgency by supporters of the Taliban regime ousted in
2001 is worsening the humanitarian situation and making the
delivery of aid difficult, according to the UN.