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US Aid Official: Surge in Food Deliveries Eliminates Risk of Large Scale Afghan Famine

Senior U.S. aid officials say a big surge in food deliveries to Afghanistan in December has eliminated the danger of large-scale famine in the country this winter.

Helped in no small measure by the military collapse of the Taleban, international aid agencies were able to move nearly 116,000 tons of food into Afghanistan last month. That was more than twice the level of November, and according to the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, it means the war-torn country has been spared from what many analysts feared would be a major hunger problem this winter.

"It appears from the data we're collecting and the reporting we're getting from the field that we have averted wide-spread famine in Afghanistan and this is a major accomplishment," he said. "The congratulations go to the international organizations such the World Food Program that did the primary distribution into the country, and then to the NGO's that did the distribution from the interior warehouses to the remote villages and to the cities."

Mr. Natsios said that because of rugged terrain and continuing security problems in some areas of Afghanistan, it cannot be assured that everyone needing food aid is getting it.

In an usual effort to disseminate news of relief programs, the U.S. aid agency is distributing 30,000 radios to internally-displaced Afghans and other vulnerable groups, to enable them to hear special aid bulletins being carried on international and local radio stations.

Mr. Natsios said a similar system of bulletins was used with great success in Kosovo and helps promote accountability on the part of local officials distributing the food and other assistance. "One way of doing that is simply to tell people what their rights are, what their ration is supposed to be, what the medical support they're supposed to be getting is. If they're not getting it, they go to their leaders and say wait a second, something is wrong here," he said. "We were supposed to get this ration and it's not being delivered. We want to know why. And the Afghan people, we know, will be very aggressive about asking their leaders why what they're supposed be getting is not arriving."

About two-thirds of the food going into Afghanistan is being paid for by the United States under a $320 million emergency aid package announced by President Bush in October.

Officials here say the administration is planning an even larger contribution to long-term reconstruction in Afghanistan to be announced later this month at an international donors conference in Tokyo.

They also say plans are being made for a Washington visit next month by Hamid Karzai, the leader of the interim Afghan government. No specific date has been set for the visit, which would be the first by an Afghan leader in nearly 40 years.