Food Aid Reaches Afghans Hit by Snows, Floods

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 23, 2005 (ENS) - The heavy snows that have blanketed Afghanistan this winter are melting, and flooded rivers have burst their banks, damaging roads and villages across the country.

The UN World Food Programme has labored for weeks to pre-position tons of food supplies to cover this emergency, and their workers are now scrambling to feed people affected by the floods after what they describe as the severest winter to hit Afghanistan in 20 years.

"Even before the snow began to melt, WFP warned of possible floods and has since been preparing assistance to flood prone areas," said Michael Jones, WFP deputy country director for Afghanistan and acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator.

In southwestern Farah province, WFP will today start urgently needed food distributions to Afghans hit by floods. A total of 25 tons of wheat, rice and pulses were sent to the province last week. This food should cover the most immediate food needs of nearly 5,000 people.

Jones said, "Pre-positioning of food allows us to provide timely assistance in Farah, as well as in other regions at risk in the country, such as central Uruzgan province."

With the help of aircraft supplied by coalition forces and with road convoys often held up by snow for days, WFP succeeded in delivering food to more than 100,000 snowbound Afghans over the past few weeks.


Heavy snow stopped this WFP truck in central Afghanistan (Photo courtesy WFP)
In late February, a wave of cold hampered relief activities in most parts of Afghanistan. Heavy snowfall cut access roads to about 80 villages near Hirat City.

In central Ghor province, a WFP four-wheel drive vehicle took seven hours to cover the 10 kilometers (seven miles) separating Peek from Farsi district.

Mohamed Naem, 36, a villager in Farsi district told WFP aid workers that his snowbound neighbors are in need of food, medicine and fuel. “We are about to run out of bushes and animal dung that we had stocked during the year. Now I wonder what to burn next so that I can keep warm,” he said.

But in the past few days, a sudden change in weather has put tens of thousands of people at risk of a different kind.

A flash flood in Uruzgan's Deh Rawud district on March 18, forced the evacuation of 400 people to the provincial capital Tirin Kot. There, WFP workers were able to draw on a total of 110 tons of food available in the city.

In Deh Rawud itself, WFP workers delivered 230 tons of food, including 10 tons that were airlifted by coalition forces in the last two days, enough to feed 25,000 people for one month.

While food is being transported to the major flood plains of southern Helmand and Nimroz provinces, pre-positioning is under way in Ghor province. Out of 32 tons planned for pre-positioning in Doliana district of Ghor, seven tons have already been dispatched by truck and the remaining 25 tons will leave on Thursday.

The UN agency says tons of food are ready for distribution to 300 families affected by floods in northern Baghlan province.

WFP is also continuing to provide food assistance to tens of thousands of Afghans in areas that were snowbound only days ago in the center and south of the country.


U.S. soldiers guard humanitarian supplies delivered by helicopter to a snowbound village in Zabol Province, Afghanistan. March 10, 2005. (Photo by by Spc. Claudia Bullard courtesy U.S. Army)
The winter emergency response is part of a wide scale humanitarian relief operation launched by the UN in support of government efforts to provide relief to people worst hit by this year's winter.

This early spring flood emergency has been easier to deal with because WFP provides assistance to vulnerable people in snowbound areas every year. WFP workers had already pre-positioned 21,000 tons of food in remote areas throughout Afghanistan, enough to address the food needs of over a half million people during the winter.

Even before the harsh wintry weather, WFP was aiming to provide food aid to nearly six million people this year in Afghanistan, where much of the population suffers high levels of poverty, poor nutrition and limited access to education and health care.

WFP's overall operational budget in Afghanistan is US$341 million from April 2003 to September 2005, but the agency says it is still short more than 25 percent of its budgeted funds.

Major donors to WFP's operations in Afghanistan include: the United States (US$133 million), Japan (US$37 million), India (US$26 million), the European Commission (US$17 million), Canada (US$6 million), Italy (US$8 million), the International Committee of the Red Cross (US$3 million), the United Kingdom (US$3 million), Switzerland (US$3 million), Saudi Arabia (US$2 million), Denmark (US$2 million), Luxembourg (US$1 million), Netherlands (US$1 million) and Ireland (US$1 million).

The World Food Programme is the world's largest humanitarian agency, providing food aid to an average of 90 million people each year, including 56 million children, in more than 80 countries.