May 25, 2006

Afghan hunger could exacerbate insecurity: UN

By Robert Birsel

KABUL (Reuters) - Hunger could haunt millions of Afghans in
coming months, with serious implications for security, unless
donor countries provide help, the World Food Programme (WFP)
said on Thursday.

The UN agency has already cut some food-for-work programs
and rations for hundreds of thousands of school children.
Without more funds, the millions could soon be going hungry.

"Hunger, real hunger, could become a serious issue in
coming months," the WFP's Asia director, Anthony Banbury, told
a news conference.

"On a humanitarian level, the need for this assistance is
very compelling, but there's also a vital strategic
consideration ... Real hunger for millions of people could
become a source of insecurity."

International forces and the Afghan government are
struggling against resurgent Taliban guerillas nearly five
years after the hard-line Islamists were forced from power.

The WFP was concerned that hungry people might be much more
susceptible to the message of those fighting the government and
its international backers, Banbury said.

"This is a real risk to the Afghan people, the Afghan
government and those trying to assist the Afghan people," he

The WFP, which is helping 3.5 million Afghans, needed $31
million for all Afghan operations for the rest of the year and
it was making an urgent appeal to donors to come up with the
help, he said.

About half of that amount is needed for a plan to
pre-position 25,000 tons of food near remote mountain
communities that get cut off in the winter.

Some 2.5 million of the war-torn country's most needy
people benefit from the so-called winterisation program but
this year the WFP has no money to fund it, and time is running

The food must be put in place between August and October,
before a harsh winter sets in and cuts off transport.

Afghanistan and those trying to help it were partly victims
of their own success, he said.

Programs to help had worked well over recent years and
hunger had not become a crisis, so donors had turned to
emergencies elsewhere, such as in Africa.

"There is a real risk that if they walk away from the
sector that is going well, it all of a sudden won't be going
well, with very serious implications," Banbury said.

The amount of money the WFP was seeking was modest compared
with what Afghanistan's allies were already spending to help
the country, Banbury said.

"It's very clear, without the resources we won't be able to
provide assistance," he said.

Afghanistan is expecting a good harvest this year, with
wheat production seen at 4.4 million tons compared with 4.27
million tons last year, but it will still face a shortfall of
500,000 tons of cereals.