Food Shortages, Refugee Flight Haunt Afghanistan

By Scott Hogenson | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

( - Even before a single shot is fired by the United States in its dispute with Afghanistan over the fate of millionaire terrorist Osama bin Laden and the role he is believed to have played in the September 11 attack on the U.S., local Afghans are feeling the impact of the terrorist attack.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reported "large-scale population movements inside Afghanistan," and cited sources estimating that one to two million people "may be moving towards Afghanistan's borders," at this time.

These new estimates compare with the 180,000 Afghan refugees that have streamed into neighboring Pakistan since last September, according to a USAID situation report by Roger Winter, director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Compounding Afghanistan's refugee problem is a growing shortage of food. The USAID estimates that 3.8 million Afghans currently are dependent on the World Food Program for sustenance, and it's estimated that the WFP has about two-weeks of stores on hand.

The WFP is an international food relief program based in Rome.

"No new food assistance is coming into Afghanistan, due to the closure of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, fuel shortages, and a lack of commercial trucks," the September 20 USAID report stated.

The growing shortage of food, coupled with rising food prices nationwide, poses what USAID calls a "major concern," because of Afghanistan's terrain and the approaching winter.

"Any interruption in food aid at this time of year is particularly critical because Afghanistan's remote mountainous regions become inaccessible during winter, requiring the pre-positioning of food stocks before winter approaches in October and November," stated the report.

Additionally, the WFP had planned to increase its food distribution program to feed 5.5 million people - about 21 percent of the entire population of Afghanistan - by November 1.

The United States has provided more than $177 million in aid to Afghanistan in this fiscal year alone, making the U.S. the largest single benefactor of the country.

The USAID report also said that American aid to Afghanistan is currently scheduled to continue "as a contingency in case access to Afghanistan opens up again, or in the event that refugee outflows to neighboring countries generate new emergency food requirements there."

As for the future of U.S. aid to Afghanistan, a USAID official said the matter is currently under review by the Bush administration.

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