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AFGHANISTAN: Winter crisis averted in north?

KABUL, 2 February 2009 (IRIN) - Prompt distribution of food aid, improved coordination among aid agencies and a relatively mild winter have prevented mass displacements in the drought-stricken northern provinces of Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

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"This year there was, in general, much better coordination between relevant government bodies and UN agencies, particularly with WFP [UN World Food Programme] as a key player. The other factor that really matters is that people in the areas most affected by drought are not facing such a harsh winter as last year," Dusan Vukotic, an ICRC official in Kabul, told IRIN.

Previously the ICRC had warned about large-scale displacements in the north. "Hundreds of thousands of Afghans may have to leave their homes this winter because of drought, insecurity and rising food prices," it warned in a press release in October 2008.

However, the ICRC's latest assessments in the four northern provinces of Balkh, Faryab, Kunduz and Badghis indicate "no major displacement" has occurred thus far.

Millions are at risk of food insecurity due to crop failure resulting from severe drought and high food prices, aid agencies have said.

In response, aid agencies and the government requested over US$400 million in a joint emergency appeal in July 2008 aimed at providing a safety-net for over five million most vulnerable people. Thus far over 50 percent of the appeal has been met, according to WFP.

Susannah Nicol, a WFP spokeswoman in Kabul, told IRIN more than 740,000 of the targeted five million beneficiaries had received food aid and the programme would continue until August 2009.

Other relief projects

A "Winter Task Force" established by the German embassy in Kabul has disbursed over 2.6 million euros (about US$3.4 million) for emergency relief activities.

"The Federal Foreign Office's overall winter aid for Afghanistan totals 7.4 million euros [$9.6 million] this winter," the German government said in a press release on 27 January, specifying that some funds would go to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the ICRC.

Winter relief supplies have also been distributed by various NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

"Our assistance package has been tailored to help families decrease their food gaps during critical winter months and to prevent displacement," said the ICRC's Vukotic, adding that some 50,000 households had received pre-winter ICRC food aid.

Gaps remain

Despite assurances by aid agencies, some people in drought-affected areas in the north said they had received little or no assistance.

"We have received no assistance in our village so far," said Noorullah, a farmer from Khoja Mosa District in Faryab Province, saying his agriculture land and livestock had been badly affected by drought.

"Where should we go in search of food… we cannot even afford to leave our homes," said a man from Chemtal District in Balkh Province.

Aid workers say their relief activities are designed to prevent crisis and deliver life-saving aid to the most vulnerable, implying that they cannot assist every poor farmer.

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Theme (s): Aid Policy, Environment, Food Security, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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