Friday, September 19, 2008

Food Crisis Brewing in Afghanistan

In case you were thinking things couldn't get any worse:

pitiable harvest this year has left small farmers all over central and northern Afghanistan facing hunger, and aid officials are warning of an acute food shortage this winter for nine million Afghans, more than a quarter of the population.

The crisis has been generated by the harshest winter in memory, followed by a drought across much of the country, which come on top of the broader problems of deteriorating security, the accumulated 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, the officials say. They warn that the food crisis could make an already bad security situation worse.

The British charity Oxfam, which conducted a provisional assessment of conditions in the province of Daykondi, one of the most remote areas of central Afghanistan, has appealed for international assistance before winter sets in. “Time is running out to avert a humanitarian crisis,” it said.

That assessment is echoed by villagers across the broader region, including in Bamian Province. “In all these 30 years of war, we have not had it as bad as this,” said Said Muhammad, a 60-year-old farmer who lives in Yakowlang, in Bamian. “We don’t have enough food for the winter. We will have to go to the towns to look for work.”

Underlying the warnings are growing fears of civil unrest. The mood in the country is darkening amid increasing economic hardship, worsening disorder and a growing disaffection with the government and its foreign backers, particularly over the issue of government corruption.

Afghan and U.N. officials, sensing the oncoming crisis, mounted appeals for more aid early in the year. Oxfam also appealed to world aid organizations at the end of last month. According to the World Food Programme, enough aid has arrived to cover the immediate needs, but they face difficulty getting aid to rural areas before winter arrives and that such efforts are hampered by the Taliban's increasing attacks on U.N. and international aid workers in even previously secure areas. 

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