Afghanistan: Food insecurity may cause deaths this winter – government

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KABUL, 27 November 2008 (IRIN) – More than 1.6 million under-five children and hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women are exposed to acute malnutrition and some could die this winter due to food insecurity and lack of medical care, the government has warned.

“Around 1.6 million children under five and 625,000 child-bearing-age women are at risk of dying this winter due to malnutrition,” the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said in a statement (in English) on 25 November.

These figures are significantly higher than the 550,000 under-five children and pregnant and lactating women considered “most vulnerable” in a joint emergency appeal by the government and aid agencies in July.

The government said the food crisis had been exacerbated by drought, high food prices and loss of livestock across the country.

“We fear that a humanitarian crisis will be imminent and villagers in those districts might lose a big number of their livestock in the coming winter,” the statement said.

Food insecurity is also making vulnerable people – mostly children and pregnant women – more prone to diseases, the MoPH said.

Unprecedented food aid

Various aid agencies and government bodies reckon 5-10 million of the estimated 26.6 million population do not have access to adequate food and nutrition.

In response, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has increased food distributions to unprecedented levels, and currently feeds over eight million people in the country.

WFP said it had allocated an extra 36,000 tonnes of food aid for the winter period. The aid supplements WFP’s routine food programme and is in addition to food included under the emergency appeal. Some 95,000 people in 22 provinces will benefit from it this winter.

“So far we have delivered 78 percent [of the 36,000 tonnes] in all 22 provinces [out of 34 country-wide] and within the next two weeks or so we expect to be [at] over 90 percent, and will be very close to having completed our target,” said Anthony Banbury, WFP’s regional director for Asia.

Several other aid organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, have also delivered food aid to needy people.

Attacks on aid convoys

The expansion of food distribution activities has been accompanied by an unprecedented increase in armed attacks on humanitarian aid convoys.

“The security challenges we face are in three areas: food coming into the country, particularly through the Peshawar route [Pakistan]; food on major routes in Afghanistan; and then distribution to districts. In all three it [security] is worse than in the past,” said Banbury.

At least 26 attacks on WFP food aid trucks have been recorded so far this year, mainly in the insecure south and southwest. Food to feed tens of thousands of hungry people had been looted and/or wasted in the attacks, WFP said.

Dozens of local and foreign aid workers have also been killed and abducted in various security incidents over the past 11 months.

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