Tag Archives: Afghanistan

U.S. Food for Peace and WFP Feeding Hungry Afghans

WFP recently distributed wheat to Afghans low on food supplies following a drought. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

Many people are accustomed to having three meals a day. Imagine though if you were allowed just one meal a day for an extended period of time. How would this affect your health, your work? If you were a child how would you be able to go to school and learn?

In Afghanistan, because of a severe drought last year, many already impoverished people were forced to cut back on their daily food intake. The UN World Food Programme (WFP), with support from the U.S. Food for Peace plan, is providing life-saving aid to millions of hungry Afghans as part of a drought relief operation.

Little rain meant Afghans could not grow enough food to support themselves. When drought strikes the impoverished, they have little to fall back on. The drought causes a spiraling disaster.

An Oxfam press release last November reported that “Families are coping by cutting down their meals, borrowing money and even migrating to Iran or Pakistan. Some 90 per cent of households in the affected area are now living in debt after borrowing money to buy food, and schools have closed as children are being put out to work.”

WFP’s Silke Buhr recently visited one of the food distributions in Samangan, which was one of 14 Afghan provinces struck by the drought. Buhr says WFP distributed a wheat ration which was the result of the U.S. Food for Peace donation. The wheat was purchased in Kazakhstan in order cut the shipping distance down as much as possible.

It was last October that the U.S. Food for Peace program made a $40 million donation to WFP’s Afghanistan relief mission. Food for Peace, which originally started during the Eisenhower administration, has long been the U.S.’s main tool for fighting global hunger. Food for Peace makes donations to support the hunger relief work of WFP as well as other agencies like Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children.

In Afghanistan Food for Peace donations are desperately needed. Even before the drought struck there were at least seven million Afghans suffering from hunger, and many others on the brink of what is called “food insecurity.” Hunger and malnutrition were already a crisis in Afghanistan and the recent drought has made the situation even worse.

Food for Peace and WFP can make the difference for Afghanistan moving toward peace and development. It’s all about the food. Without a base of food security no progress can be made in Afghanistan.

Emergency relief to drought-impacted persons is just the start. Support for the small farmers so they can withstand drought, food for education for children, and food for work to build roads are all critical to Afghanistan turning the corner.

It comes down to funding. Right now WFP needs a significant amount of donations to carry out its 2012 relief mission in Afghanistan.

The recent Food for Peace and WFP collaboration is promising. But will there be enough of it to turn the tide for hungry Afghanistan? It will be up to the political will of the international community to use food to build peace.

Article first published as U.S. Food for Peace and WFP Feeding Hungry Afghans on Blogcritics.

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Afghanistan Hunger Crisis Deepens, Donors Not Responding

Fields of Dust: This should be a wheat field, but nothing has been harvested from here this year. The poorest farmers don’t have any irrigation systems for their fields and rely entirely on rain – which came late and sparse in the winter of 2010/2011. In the 14 provinces of Afghanistan affected by the drought, farmers have lost an average of 80 percent of the rain-fed harvest. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

The hunger crisis is dangerously escalating in Afghanistan. Drought has struck 14 provinces putting over two million people at risk of severe hunger and malnutrition. The response of international donors has been poor despite warnings being issued by aid agencies. Only 7% of the UN drought appeal has been funded to this point.

Earlier this fall Oxfam warned that in the 14 drought-affected provinces, “Many people in these areas were already suffering from chronic hunger. Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas told relief agencies in August that they would run out of food in less than two months.”

Today a joint statement from Oxfam and other aid agencies said the drought and food shortages are taking their toll in communities, “from the closure of schools, forced migration in order to find food and work and already vulnerable families forced deeper into debt in order to get through the winter.”

Manohar Shenoy, the Afghanistan country director for Oxfam says, “Time was already running short. With snow falling in the highlands, the situation for many people has now become critical.”

Many Afghan children had already lost their school feeding ration earlier this year when low funding for the UN World Food Programme forced cutbacks.

Shenoy says, “To survive, already vulnerable people are pushing themselves and their families to the extreme: sliding even deeper into debt and selling all rather than just some of their livestock. Meanwhile the chronic child labour problems in Afghanistan are being exacerbated, as younger children are being forced to work more, for less money. In the worst cases, destitute families are forced to marry off young girls and sell teenage sons to agents who then send them to work in cities. This not only causes anguish, but reverses important gains that Afghan society has made.”

Funding for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the lead agency in fighting hunger, has been low all year. WFP depends entirely on voluntary donations from the international community.

Silke Buhr of WFP says, “What is really worrying is the fact that for 2012 alone, we will need about US$390 million of which we have so far received nothing. Given that it takes between three and six months from the moment of pledge until beneficiaries actually receive the food, we will almost certainly have pipeline breaks…in early 2012.”

Afghanistan is looking at not only a severe hunger winter but suffering through 2012 and even beyond. Two things have to happen. One is to fund current relief operations to gain control of the hunger situation facing the country. This interim aid needs to be followed by a comprehensive plan to build resiliency among Afghan communities so droughts do not take such a toll.

It’s critical to note that even before the drought took hold, Afghanistan was already facing a hunger crisis with over seven million people listed as “food insecure” and many others on the brink. Poverty and malnutrition rates were already high.

The drought has sunk an already hungry and malnourished population deeper into the pit of suffering. Of all the threats facing Afghanistan, it is hunger which has become the most powerful. Hunger, if left unchecked, will crush hopes for peace for the war-devastated country.

Farhana Faruqi Stocker, the managing director of Afghanaid, says, “The international community, the Afghan authorities and development organizations need to assess why millions of Afghans remain vulnerable to hunger and find long term and sustainable solutions to solve this problem.”

Article first published as Afghanistan Hunger Crisis Deepens, Donors Not Responding on Blogcritics.

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Drought and Hunger Strike Afghanistan

This year I have written several articles about the drought in Afghanistan and the resulting food shortages. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) will be providing aid to over 2 million Afghans in the drought zone during the coming months. This is on top of WFP’s existing mission to feed over 7 million Afghans who are hungry and malnourished. WFP depends on voluntary donations but so far is low on funding for its Afghanistan mission. Here is a series of photos taken by Silke Buhr of WFP which shows one of the drought hit areas.

This should be a wheat field, but nothing has been harvested from here this year. The poorest farmers don’t have any irrigation systems for their fields and rely entirely on rain – which came late and sparse in the winter of 2010/2011. In the 14 provinces of Afghanistan affected by the drought, farmers have lost an average of 80 percent of the rain-fed harvest. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

“I don’t remember it ever being this bad,” says Murat, the leader of the Tartarchal village in Khoram Sarbagh, Samangan province. “13 of the 15 wells in the village have dried up. 400 families are relying on two wells. There is no fodder for our animals. We have nothing left to sell or trade for food.” (WFP/Silke Buhr)

In the isolated villages of the drought-affected areas, people have to walk for hours or days to find water and fodder for their livestock. Many have sold their animals – their main source of income. Assessments show that some 2.8 million people have been affected by the drought. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

Mazuri-Bibi is in her kitchen with her two children. Here entire food stocks are here: a bag of wheat from last year’s harvest, which will last her a month. She is a widow and there is no work for her in the village, so she relies on the charity of her fellow villagers to get by. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

There is still some greenery in Aybak City, the capital of the Samangan province, but water level of the Aybak River is noticeably low. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

Young men in the drought-affected villages are leaving home to look for work to support their families. With the crop failure, there is little need for agricultural labour this year, so they have to travel to cities or neighbouring countries to look for casual work. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

WFP is preparing an emergency operation to assist some 2.4 million people with food and cash vouchers to help them get through until the next harvest. Assistance will begin with general food distributions to help people get through the harsh winter months, and then transition into food for work projects in the spring that will help people improve their food security by improving farming infrastructure, such as irrigation systems. WFP needs US$ 117 million to implement these plans. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

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Biden Optimistic Global Hunger Struggle Can Be Won

Biden urges Congress to think ahead when planning the new budget. He said, "Investments made to ward off food insecurity and prevent its recurrence can prevent the vicious cycles of rising extremism, armed conflict and state failure than can require far larger commitments of resources down the road." (WFP/Rene McGuffin)

Vice President Joe Biden spoke last Monday at the World Food Program USA award ceremony. He praised this year’s winners, Bill Gates and Howard Buffett, who have dedicated their talents to fighting hunger around the globe.

But Biden also made an admission of guilt—-for being optimistic that we can win the struggle against global hunger. This battle is now ongoing in the famine zones of East Africa, drought-ravaged Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and numerous other regions.

Biden said, “I am often accused of being an optimist. I plead guilty, because I believe strongly in the human capacity-and desire-to build a better world. But I am particularly confident in our ability to feed the future because we have done it before.”

Biden talked about our support of South Korea, once a war-torn country with millions starving. Today South Korea has strong economic development and is a donor to the UN World Food Programme’s hunger-fighting missions.

Biden said, “Beginning in the 1950’s, we provided agricultural support-research, training, and partnerships with American firms-to South Korea, which was one of the poorest countries on the planet. Today, it is the world’s 15th largest economy, and a major trading partner responsible for hundreds of thousands of American jobs. ”

This is a long way from the South Korea that U.S. Army major Charles Arnold saw in 1951 during the Korean War. Arnold, who led a UN Civil Assistance team, said children arrived at feeding stations and “greeted us by rubbing their stomach and saying hungry.” After regular meals from Arnold’s team, the children took on a new, healthy look. They began to smile.

South Korea was also a country that benefited from the famous CARE packages that fed so many hungry people in Europe after World War II. President Truman urged Americans to send these CARE packages to feed those hungry and displaced by the Korean conflict.

As time went on, South Korea gained from agricultural development projects, similar to those Biden praised in the current “Feed the Future” campaign. South Korea was also one of the beneficiaries of the U.S. Food for Peace program started under President Eisenhower and expanded during President Kennedy’s administration.

George McGovern was Food for Peace director under President Kennedy. He writes that about 2 million South Korean children were receiving school meals under this hunger-fighting initiative. These meals made children healthier and better educated. This is a contrast to Afghanistan today, where low funding for the UN World Food Programme has meant that many impoverished children have lost their school meal ration.

In addition, proposed budget cuts to international food aid, including Food for Peace, will mean school feeding, Feed the Future and other aid projects will face cutbacks. This is a severe threat to peace.

Biden also said, “We will continue to support your work, by urging our friends in Congress to resist the urge to slash foreign aid budgets, because long-term solutions now can reduce the cost of massive relief efforts and instability later.”

Hunger-fighting programs currently make up less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget. So slashing them does virtually nothing to eliminate the debt. Funding cuts though would devastate U.S. foreign policy. It is virtually impossible for countries to develop and have peace when generation after generation of children grow up malnourished and stunted in mind and body.

Biden finished his speech on Monday citing Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who saved millions from hunger through his agricultural innovations. Borlaug said: “If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.”

This is a message Congress needs to hear again and again as it makes crucial decisions about our foreign policy. The Food for Peace tradition of the U.S. is very much at stake in the current debates on the federal budget. What they decide in the coming days will have major implications on whether the struggle against global hunger can be won.

View a video of Biden’s speech.

Article first published as Biden Optimistic Global Hunger Struggle Can Be Won on Blogcritics.

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WFP and Aschiana Provide Food for Street Children in Afghanistan

Since last year I have been writing about a promising take-home ration program for street children in Afghanistan. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Aschiana Foundation are teaming up on this initiative which helps Afghan children caught in a severe poverty trap. Below are some photographs of the food distributions courtesy of WFP.

In the coming weeks the Congress will be deciding whether to cut international food aid. Programs like this one will be in jeopardy if the U.S. Food for Peace and other hunger fighting programs are scaled back. WFP depends on voluntary donations from the U.S. and other countries. See my interview with Nora O’Connell of Save the Children for more about the budget crisis.

Assadullah Azhari of the World Food Programme took these photos of the WFP-Aschiana program:

WFP’s Food for Training Program in Afghanistan provides rations for street children at Aschiana Foundation Centers. Funding is needed by WFP and Aschiana to ensure these programs can be maintained and expanded to reach impoverished children. (photo courtesy WFP/Assadullah Azhari)

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Is Anyone Paying Attention to Food Shortages in Afghanistan?

This a file photo of a girl during class in an accelerated learning center in Balkh Province in Northern Afghanistan. The province she lives in has now been struck by massive drought which is causing severe food shortages. The UN says the Balkh Province has one of the highest rates of "severe food insecurity." (Photo: Mats Lignell / Save the Children)

As drought and food shortages have struck Afghanistan, there are alarming reports of child malnutrition. A survey by the charity Oxfam Novib in two drought-affected provinces (Faryab and Saripul) showed global acute malnutrition (GAM) in nearly 14 percent of small children. The global emergency threshold number is 15 percent.

A study by the aid agency Medair showed GAM rates of 30 percent for children 6-59 months in the Badakhshan Province in northeast Afghanistan.  This is a high number of children threatened with such poor nutrition that they face lasting physical and mental damage.

The charity Save the Children is taking action by helping community-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) in drought-ravaged northern Afghanistan. This includes providing the miracle peanut paste Plumpy’nut to save small children from the potentially deadly effect of malnutrition. Funding will be crucial to Save the Children so it can carry out this work.

Save the Children is also starting a cash-for-work program in Faryab and Saripul to help families struggling with high food prices and unemployment. The U.S. Food for Peace program is sponsoring this initiative. It could not come at a more critical time.

The United Nations says: “The drought has added burden to an already volatile and impoverished country with considerable challenges and unacceptably high rates of malnutrition.” The UN just issued an appeal for $142 million for drought relief. Even before this disaster began to strike, the UN was low on funding for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

The drought and resulting food shortages place even further strain on an already weakened country. The United Nations reports that “even in normal times Afghanistan has high malnutrition rates with 59% and 9% of under five (U5) children being stunted and wasted, respectively, and 72% of children 6-59 months, 48% of non-pregnant women and 18% of adult men being iron-deficient.”

This malnutrition rate among children is coupled with a lack of education. The UN states there is a “silent crisis of the 42% (5,000,000) children who are not in school due to poverty and vulnerability. More children will be affected by the drought.”

The country already has many street children who are forced to beg for food and other basics. The drought may very well increase the ranks of children forced into this kind of desperation.

What will come next, without robust intervention, will be a steady deterioration within Afghanistan. It is already under way. The charity CARE reports that in the provinces of Jawzjan and Balkh, 80 percent of farmland is unusable because of the drought. People are being forced from their homes in search of food and new jobs to support themselves.

World Vision, working in Ghor and Badghis provinces, finds that “the drought has already severely affected households in these regions where many water sources are running out, children started to get small jobs instead of going to school to improve their family income, while some households started to sell their assets to buy food.”

When food safety nets are not in place, one thing leads to another. Families get forced into desperate actions. If they sell assets to get food today, it also means fewer resources for their livelihood tomorrow. Children may drop out of school and thus sacrifice their future. This is what is happening in Afghanistan. When funding is low for aid agencies, it means there is nothing for the poor to fall back on.

The UN World Food Programme, for instance, had to severely cut back its school meals program because of low funding from the international community. So that is one less safety net in place.

The international community will need to act quickly to support aid agencies working to bring relief and long-term solution to Afghans.

The Afghan people will never be able to make progress if they are constantly fighting off one shock after another. It’s not until there is solid respite from shocks that real development can take place. This all starts in the area of food and nutrition. For without healthy children, there is no road to peace and progress in Afghanistan.

Article first published as Is Anyone Paying Attention to Food Shortages in Afghanistan? on Blogcritics.

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The Investment We Need to Make in Afghanistan

WFP's Food for Training Program in Afghanistan provides rations for street children at Aschiana Foundation Centers. Funding is needed by WFP and Aschiana to ensure these programs can be maintained and expanded to reach impoverished children. (photo courtesy WFP/Assadullah Azhari)

In my article Food and Hope for Street Children in Afghanistan, I talked about a promising collaboration between the UN World Food Programme and the Aschiana Foundation; the idea being food for Afghan children can give them an opportunity to get the education and the training they need to have a future. It’s the one chance Afghanistan has.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided photos of this initiative. It’s a life changer for street children, who live in poverty and are forced to beg just to get basics. With rations provided to them by WFP, they can concentrate on tutoring and training provided at Aschiana Foundation Centers.  It’s a safety net for the street children and their families.

Many an ill of a society can be fixed if children get the right nutrition and education. It’s vital we remember this now, when many people want to turn away from Afghanistan.

A massive drought has struck parts of Afghanistan this year. Food shortages exist in many provinces. Food prices are high. Malnutrition is likely to get worse. The UN World Food Programme is facing a huge funding shortage despite the recent 40 million dollar donation by USAID. The international community needs to come together and invest in fighting hunger in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan drought crisis comes at the exact time Congress is proposing reducing international food aid, one of the most inexpensive foreign policy initiatives. Reducing Food for Peace and other hunger fighting programs will harm Afghanistan and other countries where development and peace are on the line.

Support for the World Food Programme, Aschiana Foundation, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Oxfam and others is vital at this stage. There should be no withdrawal of humanitarian aid from Afghanistan.

Article first published as The Investment We Need to Make in Afghanistan on Blogcritics.

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