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KABUL – The United Nations World Food Programme today called on donors to provide urgently needed funds to its Afghanistan operation to ensure food assistance to 3.5 million hungry Afghans, warning that there will be a break in food supplies this month without fresh donations.

WFP requires 52,000 metric tons of food worth approximately US$40 million to supply its current operations until December 2006.

“Our lack of funding has left us almost no choice and food rations and activities will have to be cut if we do not receive fresh donations. We are also extremely concerned that we will not be able to pre-position approximately 25,000 tons of food from August for isolated communities which are very difficult to reach in the middle of the winter” said WFP Representative in Afghanistan Charles Vincent. “We desperately need donors’ help”.

“We are working in some of the most remote and inaccessible locations in the world in Afghanistan, and it can take four to seven months to translate a donor’s pledge into food assistance on the ground,” said Vincent.

Unless there are new donations, many poor and hungry schoolchildren who receive take-home rations of food as an incentive to attend school will not get their rations.

A recently completed national food security and vulnerability assessment by the Afghanistan Government revealed a worrying picture of poor dietary diversity, poverty, debt and widespread food insecurity. Despite a predicted good harvest in the north, Afghanistan is expected to face a deficit of at least 400,000 tons of cereals this year.

Most farmers in Afghanistan do not harvest enough food to meet their consumption needs for an entire year, and many sell their assets to acquire capital or borrow against the following year’s crop, putting them into a vicious cycle of debt. Some even sell their daughters to wipe off debts.

Poor food consumption with little variety in diet is likely to increase malnutrition and degenerative diseases among the most vulnerable, especially young children.

“Given the escalation in needs across the world, donors are understandably stretched. But if the impending ration cuts continue, we may see not only increasing malnutrition rates, but also insecurity and possible displacement to urban centres,” warned Vincent.

Since the beginning of the new relief and recovery operation on 1 January 2006, donations have been received from India (US$21.9 million), the United States (US$15.6 million), Japan (US$5.7 million), Switzerland (US$2.4 million), Italy (US$2.3 million), the Netherlands (US$1.2 million), Luxembourg (US$588,000), Australia (US$192,000), Faroe Islands (US$177,000), Private donors (US$160,000), Norway (US$66,000) and Ireland (US$43,000).