Meeting basic food needs for millions of Afghans, says UN official

Rising food prices in Afghanistan have left millions of people struggling and in need of assistance, a senior official from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today, after assessing the food security situation in the country.

“Right now meeting basic food needs is extremely problematic for millions of Afghans,” Anthony Banbury, WFP’s Regional Director for Asia, told a news conference in Kabul today.

Mr. Banbury noted that inflation in food costs hit 30 per cent in February, with wheat prices rising by 50 to 100 per cent in some parts of the country.
“Many people are able to endure these higher prices and perhaps even benefit from them,” he stated. “But for millions of Afghans, the poorer segments of society, who spend up to 70 per cent of their meagre income on food, these food price rises put the basic necessities simply out of their reach.”

He credited the Afghan Government for being one of the first in the world to identify the problems associated with the rising prices of food and to take action to address it. In January, the Government and the UN appealed for $79 million to deal with the humanitarian impact of the surge in prices.

The WFP portion of that appeal – $77 million – is fully funded and is being used to provide food assistance to 2.5 million Afghans.

UN agencies have already taken several measures to deal with the global crisis, and earlier this week Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that he will lead a high-powered task force to coordinate the Organization’s efforts in this area.

Meanwhile, Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, is meeting today in Ottawa with Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier and Defence Minister Peter Gordon MacKay, as part of his continuing consultations with concerned countries on ways to increase assistance for the strife-torn nation.

Mr. Eide arrived in Ottawa from Washington D.C., where he met with United States officials, including President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

The new envoy will be in New York tomorrow to talk to Secretariat officials about the conference to be held in Paris in June in support of the Afghan Government. He will also be discussing stepping up coordination efforts with Afghanistan’s international partners.