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KABUL – The United Nations World Food Programme today called on donors urgently to provide funds to its Afghanistan operation, which is facing critical shortages in supplying food to 3.5 million vulnerable Afghans.

A break in food supplies looms in March if donations are not forthcoming. WFP immediately requires US$11 million to fund its current operations until June 2006.

“Basically we don’t have enough food for vulnerable communities as they come out of winter and head into the lean season prior to the summer harvest,” said WFP Afghanistan Country Director and Representative, Charles Vincent. “The international community must renew its efforts to help vulnerable Afghans.”

“With cash, we will be able to buy commodities in the region to distribute to the most vulnerable hungry poor Afghans. Without cash, the lean season will be also very bleak for many,” said Vincent.

WFP operations are already being cut back to cope with the shortage. Food-for-work projects, which involve communities building local infrastructure such as roads and bridges in exchange for food rations, are being delayed. Food that has been pre-positioned in provinces in case of an emergency is now being dispatched to tuberculosis patients.

Poor and hungry schoolchildren who receive take-home rations of food as an incentive to attend school will receive at most half of their usual ration and in some cases none at all.

A recently completed national food security and vulnerability assessment by the Government revealed a worrying picture of poor dietary diversity, poverty, debt and widespread food insecurity. Most farmers in Afghanistan do not harvest enough food to meet their consumption needs for an entire year, and many sell their assets to access capital or borrow against next year’s crop, putting them in the vicious debt cycle. Some sell their daughters to wipe off debts.

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

“Afghanistan needs more than a quick fix – it needs sustained and targeted support to help it out of its crushing poverty,” said Vincent.

The first pipeline break will occur in March, when WFP faces a shortage of around 18,000 tons of wheat and 600 tons of beans. For the next six months, WFP needs a total of 23,000 tons of commodities, which include wheat, pulses, oil and salt, at a cost of some US$11 million, to continue its operations.

Since the beginning of the new relief and recovery operation on 1 Jan 2006, donations have been received from India (US$21.9 million), the United States (US$13.8 million), Japan (US$2.7 million), Switzerland (US$1.3 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).