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Aid Agencies Debate Safety of Afghan Food Drops - 2001-10-15

There is disagreement among United Nations relief agencies about whether the United States military should be dropping humanitarian food aid to the people of Afghanistan, as the bombing campaign also takes place.

As the United Nations prepares to celebrate World Food Day on Tuesday, its special rapporteur on human rights and food issues, Jean Ziegler, strongly criticized U.S. humanitarian drops of food on Afghanistan, which are known as "snowdrops."

"The snowdrop is not only useless and dangerous because of the mines for the Afghans, it is catastrophic for humanity organizations the world over today and much more tomorrow because the credibility goes away if you are associated with a military operation," Mr. Ziegler said.

United States aircraft have been dropping thousands of bright yellow packages, over Afghanistan, each containing a full day's supply of food, while separate bombing raids continue. There are warnings that millions of Afghans are short of food.

Last week, the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson said she hoped that the bombing would stop to help aid agencies with their work. Although she denied having issued an outright call for a pause.

The head of the U.N.'s World Food Program, WFP, office in Geneva and an expert on Afghanistan, Werner Schleiffer, takes a more measured view of the situation. "These food aid drops that were made recently represent a very small percentage - probably not even expressed in a single percent - of what is being shipped and intended to be shipped to Afghanistan," he said.

Mr. Schleiffer says it is important to get the maximum amount of food into Afghanistan with winter on its way and people suffering from a third consecutive year of drought. The WFP has calculated that 52,000 tons of food is needed a month.

He says the U.N. food agency has already devised a system to provide food through the proper support channels to ensure that people get the food who really need it.

Mr. Schleiffer also argues that there is no evidence of the U.S. military dropping food near mined areas. "So far we have not received any report from any party whatsoever, including all the WFP local staff and we have some 300 local staff members in the country, that any child or adult has been injured while picking up these food rations by mines or any other military weapons," he said.

Mr. Schleiffer added that for many years, the U.N. had successfully sponsored a mine removal program in Afghanistan in areas having the highest potential for agricultural use around major provincial towns, but the country's ruling Taleban government stopped the demining effort.