Oxfam: Afghan Families at Risk

By rbaker

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KABUL -- As the United Nations Security Council visits Afghanistan, millions of women, men and children in Afghanistan are facing food shortages, made worse as early winter snows hamper efforts to assist them, Oxfam International has warned.

Five million Afghans are facing food shortages, including 1.8 million at high risk from malnutrition, especially young children, pregnant and lactating women, and the elderly, said the international aid and development agency.

"The winter snows have come early this year, which hinders the provision of vital assistance to rural families," said Matt Waldman, Oxfam International's Head of Policy in Afghanistan.

"Young children, pregnant women and the elderly are already suffering from malnutrition. With the harsh Afghan winter approaching, the international community must do everything possible to support the vulnerable and prevent avoidable deaths," Waldman continued.

Despite repeated warnings from aid agencies, the United Nations' joint emergency appeal to tackle the food crisis is only half funded. The UN also has insufficient capacity for essential planning, coordination, and information gathering.

"To reduce vulnerability to disasters, it is essential that more resources are invested in agriculture and rural development. Although some three-quarters of the population are engaged in farming and connected trades, last year US funding for agriculture was less than one per cent of its assistance to the security sector," said Waldman.

Despite the fact that some 80% of Afghans largely depend on agriculture, the sector receives only a fraction of international funding and less than 5% of the United States Agency for International Development's budget for Afghanistan since 2002.

Although relief operations are under way, Afghan and foreign aid agencies have been urging the international community to dedicate more resources for the food crisis and ensure that the UN rapidly increases its staff, so it can deliver assistance and coordinate the aid effort effectively. The agencies have also called on all parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian access so that food and other assistance reaches vulnerable Afghan families.

The food crisis in Afghanistan has been compounded by years of drought, conflict, and soaring global food prices. Oxfam and its partners are working to strengthen winter food stocks for vulnerable Afghan families, and promote sustainable rural development in the longer term. While the global financial crisis has created a strain on economies worldwide, during these times of global economic distress the burden rests especially heavily on those struggling to overcome extreme poverty.

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