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WFP: 9 Million People In Afghanistan Urgently Need Food - 2002-04-23

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has said nine million people in Afghanistan are in urgent need of food. WFP is appealing for assistance from the international community to help tide these people over until the next harvest in July.

Over the past few weeks, the World Food Program conducted 60 food and nutritional surveys in rural areas of Afghanistan. WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said the aid workers found what they describe as a desperate situation.

"Malnutrition is still there. People do not have food. They have sold all the animals they have. They are sending their kids to work because they do not have any money. They do not have jobs and the situation is bad. Obviously, because we brought so much food during winter, we did avoid the worst. We did avoid a famine in that country. But, there is still a lot, a lot of problems and especially now that we are entering what we call the hunger gap," Ms. Berthiaume said.

The so-called hunger gap is the period just before the harvest in July. Ms. Berthiaume explains food supplies are at their lowest during this time. She says people are particularly vulnerable in Afghanistan, a country which is emerging from more than two decades of war and three years of drought.

She said WFP is in urgent need of money to buy food for nine million people throughout the country who face starvation. The agency had appealed for $285 million to support its food operations for the year. Ms. Berthiaume has said it has received only 40 percent of the needed money. "The problem we are having right now is that response from donors is not as quick and generous as it was during the crisis. It is the same scenario. When it gets out of our TV screen and not doing the headlines of our newspapers, we are having more problems to get the funds we need," she said.

Ms. Berthiaume said it is critical to receive the money now. She said it takes three to four months from the time money is received for the food to be distributed to those in need.

In the meantime, she said, WFP has had to put a hold on a number of long-term food-for-work projects to pay for emergency needs. The WFP spokeswoman notes the Agency did not anticipate the speed with which Afghan refugees would return home from Pakistan and Iran.

She said the Agency had planned on feeding 500,000 returnees this year. But, she said this now appears to be a gross underestimation. Latest figures from the U.N. refugee agency show more than 320,000 refugees have returned home in less than two months. It said it now is planning on 800,000 thousand people returning home this year.