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Women Key to Afghan Food Aid - 2001-12-09

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) says the distribution of food to more than one million people in the Afghan capital, Kabul, would not have been possible without the participation of women. The WFP describes this operation as the biggest it has ever mounted in Afghanistan.

The World Food Program has set up distribution centers throughout Kabul where Afghans can collect a month's supply of food for their families. The distribution follows a week-long survey in which 3,600 people, most of them women, went door to door to assess the food needs of the inhabitants. WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the overthrow of the former Taleban rulers from the city made it possible for the agency to hire the women. She says the women's participation was absolutely crucial to the success of the operation.

"WFP policy and target is if you want to solve a problem, the hunger problem in a country, you have to address women and we need Afghan women to talk to women about their needs," explained Ms. Berthiaume. "Before we had huge problems to work with women because the Taleban did not want us to hire women and we were really in a catch 22 because on one part it is only women who could talk to women and assess their needs. But we could only hire men. So, it was really a nightmare," she said.

In another bit of good news for the many destitute and hungry Afghans, the so-called Friendship Bridge connecting Uzbekistan and Afghanistan reopened Sunday. The bridge links the Uzbek city of Termez to the Afghan town of Hairaton, about 60 kilometers from Mazar-e-Sharif, the largest city in northern Afghanistan.

A first train carrying 1,000 tons of grain and flour for Afghanistan already has crossed over. United Nations officials say the bridge will allow aid agencies to speed up the delivery of desperately-needed food and other relief supplies. Aid agencies report that hundreds of children and elderly people in Northern Afghanistan have died because of the cold lack of food.

The Friendship Bridge, which was built by the Soviet army for its war in Afghanistan, has been closed since 1996. It was reopened following U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Uzbekistan on Saturday.