FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL ALERT

NO. 313

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

Date: 8 November 2000

A GRAVE FOOD CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN

A very serious food crisis has emerged in Afghanistan following two consecutive years of drought and the continuing civil conflict. The 2000 drought has decimated crops and livestock across the country, with more than 3 million people severely affected. In addition, intensified civil conflict, particularly in northern parts, has resulted in fresh waves of population displacement, aggravating the precarious food situation. Large-scale movement of people, particularly from remote districts in Ghor, Badghis and Faryab Provinces has already begun with destitute households now being accommodated in camps at the edge of Herat, the main urban centre in the west. Nearly 2 000 households are reported to be in these camps with more expected in the coming months. In Dari Suf in southern Samangan, a number of starvation-related deaths have been reported.

Agriculture is the main source of national output and employment, with more than 85 percent of the country's estimated population of 21.9 million depending directly on agriculture. However, civil strife for over 20 years has devastated the country's economy and physical infrastructure. As a result, agriculture, trade and other economic activities have been seriously affected. The drought in 1999 and 2000, therefore, has aggravated an already precarious food supply situation for large sections of the population.

An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission which visited the country earlier this year warned of the emergence of a serious food crisis in the country due to severe drought and continuing economic problems. The Mission estimated total cereal production in 2000 at 1.82 million tonnes, about 44 percent below 1999 and 53 percent compared to 1998 (Graph 1). Cereal import requirements in the 2000/01 (July/June) marketing year, estimated at a record 2.3 million tonnes, are more than double the 1999 estimated volume of 1.1 million tonnes. With commercial cereal imports anticipated at about 1 million tonnes, and pledged emergency food aid at 250 000 tonnes, there is a deficit of 1 million tonnes which needs to be covered by additional food aid. Graph 2 shows cereal imports between 1990 and 1999.

Low precipitation last winter and insufficient vegetation growth in most highland pastures in the western and southern regions during the spring have resulted in extremely high losses of livestock for the nomadic population. In many areas the selling off of livestock began with the drought last year. It is anticipated that households in most parts of the country will completely deplete their herds within the next few months, leaving families without breeding stock and draught animals, representing the loss of virtually all productive assets.

Millions of Afghans, both in rural and urban areas, have little access to food on the market as their purchasing power has been seriously eroded by severe crop and livestock losses and lack of employment opportunities within and outside agriculture. Since the beginning of the year, WFP has distributed some 110 000 tonnes of food to 2 million worst affected people, compared to 61 000 tonnes for the same period last year. At least 115 000 tonnes of food, valued at US$ 54 million, are urgently needed to maintain the life-saving assistance, which includes running the bakeries in Kabul that feed 360 000 people every day.

Prospects for the winter cropping season, which normally starts in October/November, are not promising as the drought persists. Even if precipitation improves in the next few months, harvests will not be available until May/June 2001. But, if rains fail again the magnitude and dimensions of the food crisis would be enormous.

In view of the rapidly deteriorating food supply situaiton, donors are urged to make additional pledges and to support speedy delivery and distribution of relief assistance, particularly during the coming harsh winter months. Urgent assistance is also required to provide seeds and feed for livestock. Of the nearly 300 000 tonnes of annual wheat seed required, there is currently a deficit of about 60 000 tonnes which means that an estimated 400 000 farmers will be missing the winter planting.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG ) for further information if required.

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