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Afghanistan Food Shortage Threatens Regional Security

United Nations officials in Afghanistan say millions of people there are facing a disastrous food shortage this winter. The U.N.'s World Food Program says it has received less than half the funding it needs to provide emergency food aid for the war-torn country.

U.N. officials in the Afghan capital, Kabul, say they are scrambling to raise enough money to provide food aid for the next six months.

Winter weather has already reached much of Afghanistan. Snow will blanket most of the country within the next few weeks.

The U.N.'s World Food Program is the primary source of food aid in Afghanistan. WFP spokesman Ebadullah Ebadi says millions of people there depend on international assistance to survive the country's bitterly cold winter.

Unfortunately, he says, the U.N. agency has received less than 40 percent of the $70 million it requested earlier this year to maintain its emergency programs.

"The World Food Program is supporting 3.5 million people, and, in the next six months, we need $30 million to implement our projects throughout Afghanistan," he said.

Ebadi says that without that $30 million, food aid will almost certainly be delayed, and, in many cases, fall short of demand.

The U.N. is also concerned about a severe drought, primarily in northern Afghanistan.

Recent field surveys indicate that an estimated 90,000 people in nine provinces are facing critical shortages of potable water.

The drought has also depleted water supplies used for irrigation. In some areas, crop production has decreased by more than 50 percent.

The WFP's Ebadi says the food and water shortages could also exacerbate the country's deteriorating security situation.

"There is a direct link between food and insecurity," he said. "When there is no food, the insecurity increases."

Afghanistan remains one of the world's poorest and least developed countries. Security experts there say poverty is one of the primary factors in the country's insurgency.

Pro-Taleban militants are reportedly using the deteriorating conditions to stoke anti-government sentiment and recruit new soldiers. NATO officials say increasing aid to vulnerable communities is a key element in their strategy for defeating the Taleban.

NATO forces, which took over security operations throughout Afghanistan earlier this year, are facing a re-energized Taleban insurgency.

More than 3,000 people have died in fighting this year, the bloodiest since U.S.-led coalition forces ousted the hard-line Islamist regime in 2001.

The heaviest fighting has occurred in the Taleban's traditional stronghold in southern Afghanistan. U.N. officials say the violence there has prevented them from implementing urgently needed development programs.