WFP food distributions begin for Afghans hit by high food prices

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has begun providing emergency food assistance to millions of Afghans who can no longer afford to buy wheat and wheat flour, staples of the Afghan diet. The first WFP distributions in rural, urban and semi-urban areas start this week.

“Between now and mid-year, WFP aims to reach 2.5 million people in both urban and rural areas of Afghanistan. They urgently need food to help them overcome increases in wheat prices that have exceeded 70 percent over the past 12 months,” said Rick Corsino, WFP’s Country Director in Afghanistan.

In and around the capital, Kabul, WFP will distribute wheat to 650,000 people, with beneficiaries including households headed by women, very large households with single-wage earners and the disabled.

The food distributions in Afghanistan come as rising commodity prices push basic foodstuffs out of the reach of poor people in many countries and also threaten to cut into planned food assistance by organizations like WFP. With global food prices up 40 percent since last June, WFP says the cost of projects already approved for 2008 has risen by US$500 million to reach a total of US$3.4 billion.

On 24 January, the Afghanistan Government and the United Nations appealed jointly to the international community to assist in addressing the humanitarian consequences of the rise in food prices.  WFP requested US$77 million to deliver 89,000 metric tons of food to the poorest Afghans. Thus far, about two-thirds of this has been pledged by several donors.

“We must take immediate action to reduce the impact of soaring food prices on poor people in Afghanistan,” said Corsino. “Distributions will be completed before the main mid-year wheat harvest as we do not want this additional food to discourage Afghan farmers from growing wheat for domestic markets and needs.”

The 89,000 tons of food requested in the joint appeal is on top of the 180,000 tons that WFP plans to distribute in 2008 for nearly 3.7 million people recovering from war, civil unrest and recurring natural disasters.

Spring floods are a further concern to the Government and WFP.  As temperatures gradually rise towards the end of an especially harsh winter, melting snows and spring rains are expected to threaten tens of thousands of people. Working with provincial authorities and the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, WFP plans to position 15,000 tons of food in those areas at greatest risk.  These include the most food insecure areas in the central, western and north-eastern regions.

“We are moving now in anticipation of what has become a common spring occurrence, where hundreds of communities are hit by flooding that destroys homes and agricultural land and kills livestock,” said Corsino.

In recent years, as the winter has ended there has been a marked increase in both insurgent and criminal activity, threatening WFP food movements, especially in the south and southeast of the country.  WFP again appeals to all parties to respect this vital humanitarian effort that aims to reach the poorest Afghans with essential food.

Donors to WFP’s current three-year US$450 million relief and recovery operation in Afghanistan include the United States (US$160 million), the UN Central Emergency Response Fund – CERF (US$36 million), Canada (US$27 million), India (US$25 million), Japan (US$17 million), the Netherlands (US$8 million), Italy US$5 million), Germany (US$5 million), Switzerland (US$4.4 million), the Russian Federation (US$3 million), the European Commission (US$3 million), Luxembourg (US$3 million), Saudi Arabia (US$2 million), (France US$1.8 million), Belgium (US$1.5 million), and several others.