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Press Release 01/37 Joint WPM/FAO

MILLIONS OF AFGHANS FACE STARVATION AS CROPS FAIL


Rome, June 8, 2001 - Millions of Afghans are facing starvation because a third consecutive year of drought and intensifying economic problems have seriously undermined the food supply situation in Afghanistan, according to a joint Special Alert released today by two United Nations food agencies. The drought has resulted in near total failure of rainfed agriculture and has substantially reduced irrigated farm production. As a result, the alert warns that the food situation in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating and will continue to worsen.

The alert, produced by a joint Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission, sent to Afghanistan by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), says: "There is mounting evidence of emerging widespread famine conditions in the country, reflecting substantially reduced food intakes, collapse of the purchasing power of the people, distress sales of livestock, large-scale depletion of personal assets, soaring foodgrain prices, rapidly increasing numbers of destitute people, and ever swelling ranks of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)."

"The issue of 'life saving' in Afghanistan is going to be even more crucial this year than it was last year," warns the alert.

It is estimated that some five million Afghans have little or no access to food and will require international humanitarian food aid. The priority group is judged to be particularly vulnerable because its purchasing power has been seriously eroded by the lack of employment opportunities within and outside agriculture. This has been caused by a number of factors including abandonment of poppy cultivation, a decline in other cash crop production, low livestock prices, depletion of herds and other assets, as well as displacement due to conflict and drought.

According to the alert, the group will require emergency food aid for periods ranging from 3 to 10 months, at least until next year's harvest to prevent starvation and reduce the number people leaving the land to become IDPs and refugees. Substantial assistance is also needed to rehabilitate the collapsing irrigation system and infrastructure and the provision of quality seed.

The alert says, that the "exceptionally positive development of the abandonment of poppy cultivation in 2001, which has rid the world of 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of opium and derivates," comes at a time when intensifying economic problems limit the opportunities for alternative income sources for poppy farmers and workers.

Three years of drought have also dealt a serious blow to livestock with catastrophic consequences for Afghan nomads.

During its extensive field visits, the Mission observed that rainfed wheat and barley crops had almost totally failed, except in a few pockets in different regions. The rainfed wheat production in 2001 is estimated to be about 40 percent less than even last year's extremely low output. The mission estimated the 2001 total cereal production at 2.03.million tonnes - about 12 percent larger compared to 2000 but smaller by 37 percent compared to 1999. As a result, the cereal import requirement in

the 2001/02 marketing year (July/June) is estimated at 2.2 million tonnes, slightly less than last year's record high level of 2.3 million tonnes, but about double the volume of 1.1 million tonnes in 1999.

The alert puts commercial cereal imports at some 760,000 tonnes, about 25 percent lower than the estimate for last year, leaving a gap of 1.4 million tonnes. WFP estimates emergency food aid needs at 386,000 tonnes, Of which 156,000 tons are covered under current WFP relief commitments, leaving an uncovered gap of over 1 million tonnes. "A shortfall of this magnitude, coupled with seriously deteriorating purchasing power of the population, if unmet, could have disastrous consequences," says the alert.

* * * *

The full Alert by the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Afghanistan is available at the following URL:
http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/faoinfo/economic/giews/english/alertes/sptoc.htm

For further information, contact:

FAO CONTACT

WFP CONTACT

John Riddle, Information Officer
FAO Media Relations
Telephone: (39) 06 57053259
E-mail: john.riddle@fao.org


Trevor Rowe
Spokesman/WFP
39 06 6513 2602
E-Mail: trevor.rowe@wfp.org

Khaled Mansour
WFP Public Information/Islamabad
92 51 227 1265
E-Mail: khaled.mansour@wfp.org


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