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Press Release 01/73

FAO WARNS OF FAMINE THREAT TO AFGHANISTAN WHILE FOOD SUPPLIES TIGHTEN IN NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES


Rome, 25 October 2001 - The deepening food crisis in Afghanistan is threatening Afghans with mass starvation, according a special report released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The report warns that the food supply situation in countries bordering Afghanistan is also seriously undermined by a prolonged drought. "This year's food production in Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan has suffered a significant reduction due to serious drought. The unfavourable food supply situation, which has prompted emergency food assistance in some of these countries, therefore gives little comfort to millions of displaced and resident Afghans who in the past could meet part of their food needs with supplies from neighbouring countries."

Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been supporting millions of refugees from past conflicts but their capacity to cope with the new arrivals is seriously compromised due to insufficient resources, the report says.

While the majority of Afghans are facing severe food supply difficulties, some 7.5 million most affected people are in desperate need of food aid. WFP plans to deliver 52,000 tonnes of food aid per month to feed the most vulnerable people, both refugees (1.5 million) and resident population (6 million) in Afghanistan. However, transport and distribution difficulties are hampering the delivery of the required volumes. Some of the food would have to be airlifted to inaccessible areas of the country, in particular the central highlands before the onset of harsh winter in mid-November.

The current adverse situation coincides with the planting season for wheat, which accounts for 80 percent of the country's total cereal production. With the population largely on the move, serious shortages of inputs and a disruption of farming activities by military operations, cereal production in 2001 to meet consumption needs duriing 2001/02 (July/June) is set to decline significantly. This would further aggravate the already grave food supply situation in the country.

When the conflict is finally resolved, mid-term agricultural rehabilitation/reconstruction measures in Afghanistan will need to address the reconstruction of irrigation systems, input supply to farmers, farm power, rehabilitation of orchards, livestock and forestry sub-sectors, extension and education and institutional capacity-building. FAO has estimated that some US$200 million would be required for the implementation of a countrywide agricultural sector emergency relief and rehabilitation programme.

Even before the events of 11 September, Afghanistan was gripped by a grave food crisis following three consecutive years of drought and intensifying economic problems due to continuing civil conflict.

The FAO report warns that rainfed wheat production in Pakistan is estimated at about 541,000 tonnes in 2001, nearly 70 percent below the average of the last five years and 62 percent below last year's reduced crop. However, as about 90 percent of wheat production is irrigated, the overall impact of the drought was not as great. Nevertheless, total wheat production (irrigated and rainfed) in 2001 was estimated at 18.73 million tonnes, still significantly below the 21 million tonnes harvested last year. The total cereal production in 2001 is estimated at 26.5 million tonnes, 13 percent below last year's harvest, the report says.

Pakistan is hosting some 2 million Afghan refugees from the earlier conflict. However, refugee numbers are on the increase due to recent events.

In Iran the disastrous consequences of three consecutive years of drought continue to be felt in all sectors of the economy. A UN inter-agency report released in July estimated that about 90 percent of the population (urban, rural and nomadic) have been severely affected. The shortage of water in rivers and the rapidly falling water tables have resulted in an acute scarcity of drinking water in both rural and urban areas. Large sections of the rural population and their livestock in the affected provinces have started migrating to other areas in search of water. An estimated 200,000 nomadic livestock owners are reported to have lost their only source of livelihood.

In Tajikistan, drought, water shortages, dilapidated irrigation systems and structural problems have worsened the food supply situation this year compared to last year when a large deficit was experienced, with food supplies remaining very tight throughout the year, according to the report. The two main rivers, Amu and Syr, feeding the extensive irrigation system of the country, have been flowing at about 50 percent of the average levels.

Severe water shortages and drought two years in succession have significantly impacted crop production in Uzbekistan, the report says. "Water flows in the two main sources of irrigation, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers are reported to be about 40 percent of the average flows, while record hot and dry weather conditions have increased demand for irrigation water." In addition, high levels of salinity are reported to contaminate the scarce water supply.

This year's total grain output is not expected to exceed 3.4 million tonnes, about 500,000 tonnes less than the poor harvest of last year and about one million tonnes less than in 1999 when production was considered average. Wheat production is estimated at 3.2 million tonnes and rice at 100,000 tonnes, compared with 1999 production levels of 3.6 million tonnes of wheat and 421,000 tonnes of rice.

In Turkmenistan, drought and irrigation water shortages for two years in succession have affected crop production. Reservoirs fed by the Amu Darya, providing nearly 90 percent of the country's irrigation needs, have been significantly lower than the previous year, while the Murghab river supplying irrigation water to Mary province has been virtually dry for most part of the cropping season this year.

FAO tentatively forecasts grain output at similar levels to its estimates of 2000, including 1.4 million tonnes of wheat, 50,000 tonnes of barley, 20,000 tonnes of maize and 20,000 tonnes of rice. Grain production levels were maintained due to some increase in area under wheat. The worst affected areas are once again Mary province (bordering Iran and Afghanistan) and Dashagouz (bordering Karaklpakstan region of Uzbekistan). The cereal import requirement for 2000/01 is estimated at about 40,000 tonnes.

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The Special Report on Afghanistan and Central Asia is available on the Internet as part of the FAO World Wide Web at the following URL address: http://www.fao.org/giews/. For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact: The FAO Media Relations Office at telephone number: +39 06 5705 3625 E-mail: john.riddle@fao.org


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