The Challenge of Getting Food to Afghan Schoolchildren

Imagine you have been given a special assignment: to make sure every child in Afghanistan is able to receive school meals. If you are successful, you can save Afghan children from hunger and malnutrition. The meals will help children have the energy and strength to come to school and learn. In essence, you will be playing a huge role in building Afghanistan’s future.

Your mission begins. You line up funding, of course, or you won’t get anywhere. Once you have funding to purchase the food for the school feeding, can you buy it locally and help out Afghan farmers and food producers? Maybe you can, maybe not. You might need to mix local production with some imported food.

Then there is the transportation of the food. This is a decent challenge no matter where you are in the world. In Afghanistan though it is especially difficult as the road system is not well-developed. Weather can wreak havoc in parts of Afghanistan. There is also the issue of security for your food transport in a country plagued by conflict and unrest.


Stuck In The Mud in Afghanistan: Drivers have to dig trucks out of the mud or shovel dry dirt onto the roads in order to get vehicles moving again. (WFP / Hukomat Khan)

In a nutshell, these are some of the challenges facing the UN World Food Programme (WFP) as it tries to provide food for schoolchildren in Afghanistan. WFP is the largest food aid organization in the world and it is entirely voluntarily funded by governments and the public. WFP’s goal is to work with the Afghan government to provide meals for every child at school as well as take-home rations. This food also serves as an incentive for parents to send their children to school. The stronger the school feeding program, the stronger the enrollment and class performance.

Back in April WFP sent out a convoy of trucks to bring 200 tons of school meals to the remote Daykundi province of central Afghanistan. The mission had to be delayed briefly when violence flared up around the country. But WFP was determined to get the food there.


High Climbers: The unpaved roads – some at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres – become impassable in the winter months, and are left muddy and slippery in the spring. (WFP / Hukomat Khan)

Shershah Wahidi, the Senior Logistics Assistant, said, “The roads in this part of Afghanistan don’t usually reopen until late May. But we had to send food to these villages early this year because this region remains without food during winter. We wanted to make sure that supplies for the schools were in place in good time to convince students to start attending classes as early as possible.”


On The Edge: Many of the drivers working for WFP in Afghanistan have been driving these routes for more than 20 years. (WFP / Hukomat Khan)

A week-long trek, through rain, mud, and sometimes snow, followed. It was Afghanistan’s version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but WFP made the deliveries of high-energy biscuits and vegetable oil to the school feeding program.

Another convoy in June was not as fortunate. WFP reports: “On 4 June, a WFP convoy carrying food – 15 light trucks clearly marked with WFP logos – was attacked by anti-government elements in Parwan province. Although the drivers escaped unharmed, three trucks were burned, with their cargo of High Energy Biscuits lost.”

Funding for Afghan hunger relief continues to be an issue as WFP has “received less than one fifth of its 2012 funding needs so far” for its country operation. This includes the school feeding program as well as nutrition and food for work programs.

This shortage of food aid funding becomes a critical topic for debate as the US plans to reduce its Food for Peace program (Title II). The US makes donations through Food for Peace to countries around the world suffering from hunger. The less funding Food for Peace has, the less potential for donations to Afghanistan and other countries. The McGovern-Dole international school meals program is another US aid program whose funding is also being considered by Congress.

The World Food Program USA said last week that “recent congressional budget cuts reduce the impact of emergency funding by limiting both short- and long-term assistance programs. At a time when the need for food assistance is greater than ever, Title II programs should be fully-funded to improve the lasting success of the U.S. and recipient countries.”

It’s a daunting challenge getting food to Afghan schoolchildren. When one obstacle is cleared, another one is sure to present itself. What’s at stake is the future of every Afghan child as well as their country. If the children are fed and educated, Afghanistan can build a future of prosperity.

 

Biscuit Power: When distributed regularly to schoolchildren, high energy biscuits (HEBs) can act as an incentive for students to attend class regularly, as well as help to combat micronutrient deficiencies. WFP plans to give HEBs to nearly one million schoolchildren in Afghanistan this year. (WFP / Assadullah Azhari)


Buying Domestically: Most of the biscuits distributed by WFP in Afghanistan are imported from India, but WFP is working to build local capacity in order to buy more locally in future. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

Article first published as The Challenge of Getting Food to Afghan Schoolchildren on Blogcritics.

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