Accessibility links

Race Begins to Deliver Afghan Food Aid Before Winter

Afghan officials are in a race against time to get food into remote areas that will soon be isolated when the first significant seasonal snow falls. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Kabul says compounding the challenge are security concerns, a terrible harvest and soaring food prices.

Afghanistan's government says it has only weeks to get food stocks into place for millions of its citizens who may be facing one of their harshest and hungriest winters.

Shipments are heading to some of these rural communities amid worries that the Taliban will attack such convoys. The United Nations has appealed to the Taliban not to interrupt such humanitarian missions.

The country's acting agriculture minister, Ghulam Mustafa Jawad, in a VOA interview, warned that donations from the international community and domestic reserves could fall short of the amount needed to feed one of the world's poorest nations in the months ahead.

"Maybe these sources, procurement from these sources, [are] not enough to solve our problem for all the people in Afghanistan," said Jawad.

The British charity Oxfam is warning of a potential humanitarian crisis, noting that appeals by Afghanistan and the United Nations for more than $400 million have fallen far short of that goal.

Pakistan, the major outside source of wheat and other staples for Afghanistan, has severely curbed food exports.

The World Food Program is pledging to feed nine million Afghans - nearly one-third of the population - until next year's harvest is complete. That is double the number of people it has assisted here in recent years.

Acting agriculture minister Jawad says it has been a terrible year. A very long and dry winter was followed by spring and summer drought which severely affected farming and killed an unusually large number of livestock. He worries that the coming winter could be a tipping point to disaster.

"This is a very big problem influencing on the cereal production, especially, and other crops. Also, in the livestock sector," said Jawad.

The minister notes that while grain prices have recently dipped he expects them to severely escalate again in two to three months. Prices for some staple foods have already soared as much as 250 percent from one year ago. In the meantime, wages - for those lucky enough to earn them - have not increased.

Most experts are hopeful that Afghanistan can avoid famine but predict that, at best, it is going to be a long and hard winter for millions of hungry Afghan.