Ministry warns of severe food shortage

Afghanistan faces a deficit of two million tonnes of staple food - primarily wheat flour and rice - to feed millions of vulnerable people in the coming six months, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) has said.

The huge food shortfall has occurred largely due to crop failure resulting from a severe drought, officials said. Drought has led to the failure of up to 90 percent of rain-fed agriculture and also damaged irrigated land, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

High prices have affected food imports.

“We need two million tonnes of food for over six million vulnerable people,” Mohammad Sharif Sharif, deputy minister of the MAIL, told IRIN.

Officials said food convoys needed to reach some vulnerable areas quickly because the roads leading to them become inaccessible in winter.

Heavy snow and extremely cold weather killed dozens of people and blocked roads all over the country last winter.

“We are trying to dispatch and pre-position food items in Ghor and Badakhshan provinces in the very near future,” Sharif said.

Spiraling food prices and drought have pushed over five million Afghans into high-risk food-insecurity over the past 18 months, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported in July.

Massive food imports

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Due to high food prices many Afghans cannot afford regular daily meals

To meet the food requirements of five million most vulnerable people, UN agencies and the government launched in July a joint appeal for US$404 million.

The appeal, which has received about 40 percent of its requested funding so far, is expected to bring in 230,000 tonnes of mixed food aid.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pledged $8.65 million to the appeal, according to WFP, and Afghan government officials have called on other oil-rich Arab countries to make similar generous contributions.

“We call on Gulf States and rich Arab countries to help their Muslim brothers and sisters in Afghanistan,” Sharif said.

The government said about 150,000 tonnes of wheat would be bought and imported from Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan before the onset of winter.

“The remaining deficit will be met through private sector imports from neighbouring and regional markets,” Sharif said.

Pakistan - a traditional major food supplier to Afghanistan - has imposed a strict ban on food exports, but making up the shortfall by importing over 1.5 million tonnes of food in a limited period of time is unrealistic, several food merchants in Kabul said.

Crisis approaching?

''Hundreds of thousands of Afghans may have to leave their homes this winter because of drought, insecurity and rising food prices in the north.''

Aid agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Oxfam international have already warned about a possible humanitarian crisis this winter in some parts of the country.

“Hundreds of thousands of Afghans may have to leave their homes this winter because of drought, insecurity and rising food prices in the north,” the ICRC said in a statement on 6 October.

The food situation of vulnerable people elsewhere in the country is also bleak and food aid is needed, aid workers said.

“It [the situation] is alarming… the next 4-5 months are crucial,” Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul, told IRIN.