Nine Million Afghans To Face Acute Food Shortage This Winter: NYT

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 21 2008 11:00 AM

At least nine million Afghans face the prospect of acute food shortage this winter due to a poor harvest this year.

This looming food crisis in Afghanistan could force many villagers relocate, says a New York Times report.

The crisis has been generated by the harshest winter in memory, a drought across much of the country, problems of deteriorating security, pressure of returning refugees and the effects of rising world food prices.

The failure of the Afghan government and foreign donors to develop the country's main economic sector, agriculture, has compounded the problems, officials say.

They warn that the food crisis could make an already bad security situation worse.

The British charity Oxfam has appealed for international assistance before winter sets in.

The Afghan government and its related agencies, besides the World Food Program, have stepped in to stem the crisis, but according to the NYT, a lot more needs to be done.

Several weeks ago, Oxfam warned in a letter to ministers responsible for development in some countries assisting Afghanistan that the 404 million dollar appeal by the government and the United Nations was substantially under-financed.

"If the response is slow or insufficient, there could be serious public health implications, including higher rates of mortality and morbidity, which are already some of the highest in the world," the letter said.

It also warned of internal displacement of families who had no work or food, and even of civil disturbances.

The United States government announced this week that it would supply nearly half the emergency food aid requested in the appeal.

Neglecting a lifeline as vital as agriculture has been dangerous for stability in Afghanistan, as people are unable to feed themselves, several provincial governors said in interviews.

Development officials warn that neglecting the poorest provinces can add to instability by pushing people to commit crimes or even to join the insurgency, which often pays its recruits.

Of 15 billion dollars of reconstruction assistance given to Afghanistan since 2001, "a staggering 40 percent has returned to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries," the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief said in a March report.