Millions Face Starvation in Afghanistan - UN

Reuters, June 8, 2001
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Millions of people are facing starvation in Afghanistan in the worst drought in 30 years, United Nations aid agencies said on Friday.

A very poor 2001 harvest, combined with the decimation of livestock and soaring grain prices, have reduced many people to eating grasshoppers and animal feed, according to the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The two agencies issued a "special alert'' after their recent month-long mission to assess deteriorating crop and food supplies in the war-torn country. Agriculture experts from the two U.N. agencies visited 18 of the 31 provinces.

"Given the scale and magnitude of the food crisis facing Afghanistan, the (U.N.) mission urges the most urgent international response to cover this large gap to avert an imminent catastrophe,'' their jointly issued report said.

They warned that unless international aid was forthcoming, poor Afghan farmers might be forced back into cultivating opium poppies to make heroin, which is banned by the ruling Taliban.

"Afghanistan faces a much more serious food crisis this year than last year as a consequence of severe drought for the third year running and intensifying economic problems,'' it said.

The problems are aggravated by the rapidly increasing number of destitute people and the swelling ranks of refugees and internally displaced persons, it added.

The U.N. report said cereal output was forecast at about two million tons, leaving Afghanistan with a shortfall of 2.2 million tons, more than last year's ``unprecedented'' deficit.

"Even if the planned volume of food aid (360,000 tons) and projected commercial imports (760,000 tons) materialize, there would remain a large uncovered cereal deficit of over one million tons,'' it said.

U.N. experts who traveled throughout the country observed crops such as wheat and barley had almost totally failed, except in a few pockets.

Afghanistan's rain-fed wheat production in 2001 is estimated at about 40 percent less than last year's output of 140,000 tons, itself considered ``extremely low,'' the report said. But irrigated wheat production is estimated at 1.5 million tons against 1.3 million tons last year.

"It is estimated that five million people have no access or very little access to food and will need food aid until at least the next harvest,'' WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told a news briefing in Geneva.

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