New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - The United States has sent 40,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan, which is facing one of its worst droughts in a century.
A ship carrying the aid has arrived in the port city of Karachi, Pakistan, and from there the wheat will be sent to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, media reports said on Friday.
"The wheat aid shows America's concern for the people of Afghanistan," said William Milam, the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. "We have the highest regard for the people of Afghanistan and the sanctions are largely against the government and not against the people,'' he said, as he handed over the shipment to the UN World Food Program.
United Nations imposed limited sanctions against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban government in November for refusing to hand over alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden to the United States or a third country to stand trial for allegedly masterminding the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
Washington imposed sanctions on trade and investment with the Taliban, which control about 90 percent of the country.
A Taliban Foreign Ministry statement said, "Afghanistan's people need international aid, not more sanctions."
Milam said Washington had no "vendetta" against Afghans. "UN sanctions will not affect humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan, which will continue," he said.
"Terrorism, treatment of women and some other social issues are some of the difficulties in normalizing the relationship with the governing authorities in Afghanistan," he said.
The US wheat shipment follows a recent US donation of $500,000 in emergency drought relief for Afghanistan. Up to four million people might be "severely affected" by the drought and another eight to 12 million moderately affected, the United Nations has estimated.
Another 45,000 tons of wheat is expected to arrive from the United States in about four months.
The U.S. is the largest single provider of humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan. In 1999, the U.S. provided more than $70 million in assistance to the Afghan people, including 100 million kilograms of wheat, worth $42 million.
The UN called for an "accelerated" response from international donors to its appeal last week for 67 million dollars in drought relief aid.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies announced a $1.4 million donation to help people in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan - all hit by the devastating drought.
In India, the monsoon rains have eased the problem, but in Pakistan and Afghanistan the relentless dry spell continues.
"The response needs to be accelerated," said Stephanie Bunker of the Islamabad-based UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan.
"Some donors have begun to come forward. The money is beginning to trickle in now but there is a need for both the drought appeal and the (overall aid appeal for Afghanistan) to be met."
"Millions of Afghans have little or no access to food through markets and their access to food through self production has been severely undermined by drought," the World Food Program said in a report.
It said Afghanistan would have to import 2.3 million tons of cereals this year, more than double the record amount imported last year.
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Drought in Pakistan, Afghanistan 'Critical,' UN Says