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UN Warns of Food Shortage in Afghanistan - 2001-09-18

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) warns Afghanistan could be facing widespread food shortages. WFP says it only has enough food inside the country to last two to three weeks.

The World Food Program says the agency has stopped food shipments into Afghanistan because it does not have enough vehicles to move the food. The agency currently is feeding 3.8 million Afghans.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the agency fears hundreds of thousands of people could move toward neighboring countries if food becomes scarce. She says WFP is finalizing contingency plans to help those people who may cross the borders into Pakistan, Iran, and Tajikistan. "For planning purposes, we hope to be ready to help as many as 1.5 million people," says Christiane Berthiaume. "We, together with other U.N. agencies, believe that millions of people will suffer serious food shortages within Afghanistan if we cannot deliver relief assistance for security reasons."

The United Nations evacuated all its foreign aid workers from Afghanistan fearing strikes in retaliation for last week's terrorist attacks in the United States.

WFP's local Afghan workers are carrying out essential humanitarian operations in the country. But, Ms. Berthiaume says what they can do is limited and some operations already have been stopped.

She says winter arrives in mid-November making certain parts of the country virtually inaccessible. She says now is the time to pre-position food in these areas. Since that is not possible, she says she is afraid the plight of the Afghan people will become even more desperate. "We have already been seeing signs of pre-famine," she says. "We have reported cases of people in central Afghanistan of people being paralyzed because they have eaten some poisonous plants. The situation is very serious, that is for sure."

Before the current crisis, the World Food Program was expanding its operations to help 5 million Afghan people during the coming autumn and winter.

Ms. Berthiaume says 22 years of war and three years of drought have left their mark and increased the numbers of people needing international assistance. She says the United Nations will do its best to help them. But given the current lack of access to Afghanistan, she says she is afraid the ability to provide food will be further reduced.