Afghans are bracing for another harsh winter made worse by food shortages and ongoing violence. This year, United Nations officials say attacks on their food convoys are creating an even more difficult situation than in years past. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Kabul. 

During this winter the United Nations estimates nearly one million Afghans will depend on U.N. food aid to survive until spring.

The food is transported by U.N. convoys that brave Taliban ambushes and looting by criminal gangs. So far this year there have been 26 attacks on the convoys. Last year there were more than 30.

Officials say the attacks this year have been more significant partly because the convoys themselves have grown bigger.

After last summer's drought and this year's global spike in food prices, the World Food Program is providing food aid to more Afghans than it has in the past, and the larger food convoys are increasingly attractive targets.

Daud Sultanzoi is an Afghan lawmaker who heads a committee that oversees rural development.

He says the Afghan government should have done more to prepare for winter food shortages to reduce the risk to convoys.

"If you prepare in advance, gradual supply to every part of the country would not cause the kind of security problem of large things being moved," said Daud. "So when you're ill-prepared and you need to supply things at the last minute, that causes more problems and this would be one of those situations."

But the worsening security is also affecting aid groups that work with a much lower profile. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent says despite having a network of some 20,000 local Afghan volunteers, its activities have become more restricted in the last 18 months.
"We nowadays have less access to some of the remote areas where a few years ago we were able to reach without high security concerns," said Graziella Piccolo, a spokeswoman for the group in Kabul.

U.N. World Food Program officials say the attacks inside Afghanistan are only part of their new challenges. About 90 percent of Afghanistan's food aid is trucked through Pakistan, and World Food Program regional director Anthony Banbury says the convoys are also being targeted before reaching Afghanistan.

"For the convoys headed to Afghanistan, the attacks have been very well organized, large numbers of attackers. And I do not believe it is common criminality - it is much too organized and significant," said Banbury. "It's an organized militant group."

Most of the attacks occur between the northwestern Pakistani city Peshawar and the Afghan border. Each day trucks transport about 600 tons of food aid along the mountainous road that is a key conduit between Pakistan's southern port Karachi and Kabul.

Banbury says officials are now considering alternate, longer routes: a western one that would go though Iran and northern routes through Tajikistan or Uzbekistan.

Despite this year's difficulties, Banbury says workers have already staged about 80 percent of the anticipated food aid near those people who will need it.

"While security is definitely becoming a growing challenge, at the same time, the government and the WFP are successfully meeting that challenge and responding to the needs of more people than we have in the past," added Banbury.

He says the most vulnerable Afghans are not expected to face a food shortage crisis this winter.