Export restrictions, insecurity delay food aid delivery

 Tuesday, June 03, 2008Five months after a joint appeal by the UN and the Afghan government for US$77 million to provide emergency food assistance to 2.55 million Afghans affected by soaring food prices, relief has reached only about 38 percent of the targeted population, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) told IRIN.

The Joint Appeal for the Humanitarian Consequences of the Rise in Food Prices was launched on 24 January. WFP requested the funds to purchase and distribute 88,000 metric tonnes (MT) of food aid from February to mid-2008.

Donors have contributed more than 90 percent of the requested funds to date, according to WFP Afghanistan.

"The plan was for 88,000MT and so far 28,000MT have been dispatched, with 20,000MT distributed to beneficiaries," said Rick Corsino, WFP country representative. Of the 2.55 million targeted beneficiaries, 970,000 have been assisted thus far, he added.

A steep rise in food prices has pushed millions of already vulnerable Afghans into "high-risk" food-insecurity, aid agencies have reported.

In an effort to avert a humanitarian tragedy resulting from increasing problems in accessing food, the UN and Afghan government had planned in January to provide an emergency "safety net" for more than 2.5 million most vulnerable people until the harvest season in August. However, the plan has not gone as expected.

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One of the main reasons why food aid has not yet reached even half the targeted communities is procurement and logistical hurdles.

Initially it was decided that wheat and other food items would be procured from markets in neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, which traditionally supplies Afghan food markets.

However, rising prices have prompted Pakistani authorities to impose a strict ban on food exports, hitting WFP's operation in Afghanistan.

"Because we have been unable to obtain much of the food in the region owing to export restrictions imposed by neighbouring countries, we have had to procure from other parts of the world. Delivery times are therefore much greater than we would have wanted," Corsino said.

The Pakistan government has not yet responded to WFP's requests to purchase 100,000MT of wheat from Pakistani markets, Corsino said.

Worsening insecurity in south and southeastern parts of Afghanistan is another obstacle. WFP has lost about 1,000MT of food, valued at $800,000, in almost 40 separate attacks on food aid convoys in the past 18 months.

The UN has repeatedly condemned armed attacks on food aid convoys and has called on all warring parties to allow their safe passage throughout the country.

"Food is stolen from those people who need it most," Kai Eide, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, told the media in Kabul on 22 May.

Photo: Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN
Insecurity, procurement and logistical difficulties have delayed plans to assist 2.55 million needy Afghans until the end of June 2008

"It has been condemned by the international community, but I want to see this condemned by others also. I would like to see the Taliban, the insurgency, condemn such attacks," Eide said.

Programme extended

WFP says its emergency food aid programme has helped many poor families across Afghanistan and has also contributed to easing food prices in many locations.

Despite delays in getting all the required food, WFP says it is committed to distributing the planned food aid.

"The food [aid] needs continue in many areas, so we are confident that even though the food will only reach beneficiaries in July/August, it will still be very much needed," said Corsino.