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Afghanistan faces serious food crisis

Afghanistan faces a serious food crisis and the situation is likely to worsen. Millions of Afghans have little or no access to food in a country that has been hard-hit by severe drought and spiralling economic problems.

A recent joint FAO/WFP mission to Afghanistan estimated that the total cereal production for 2000 is down by a massive 44 percent compared to the already drought-affected 1999 crop output.

The result is that cereal imports for the coming year are estimated at a record high level of 2.3 million tonnes, more than double last year's. After taking into account anticipated commercial cereal imports of one million tonnes and WFP emergency food aid of 225 000 tonnes already under way, there is still an uncovered deficit of over 1 million tonnes. According to the FAO/WFP report "a shortfall of this magnitude, if unmet, will inevitably result in widespread serious nutritional consequences and loss of life".

The severe country-wide drought, combined with the mildest winter of 40 years, has caused a near-total failure of the rainfed crops like wheat and barley. If rains fail again, states the report, "the outlook is frightening in terms of the magnitude and dimensions of the needs for 'life saving' alone."

Agriculture is the mainstay of Afghanistan's economy, where some 85 percent of the country's population depends directly on it. Now "'the gravity of the situation involves the collapse of livelihoods of millions of Afghans". Immediate and urgent assistance is required to provide seeds, feed and agricultural rehabilitation.

With the entire country in the grip of the drought, access to food through own-production is seriously reduced. It is even more limited through markets because general purchasing power has been severely eroded.

As the few remaining coping mechanisms are exhausted, the report bleakly states that "the issue of 'life saving' is, this year, the most critical reality in Afghanistan".

9 June 2000

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