Over 1 million Afghans face food shortage due to rising prices – UN agency

14 January 2008 – More than 1 million people in rural Afghanistan are at risk of food shortages due to an increase in prices for staples such as wheat flour and vegetable oil, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today.

“There are as many as 1.3 million Afghans who before were considered at borderline risk of food insecurity, but now, because of large price increases may have been pushed into a situation of high-risk of food insecurity,” WFP Country Director Rick Corsino said at a press briefing in Kabul today.

“We have concluded that assistance for this group of people is justified and necessary for the period before the next harvest,” he added, noting that an additional 40,000 tons of food – at a cost of some $30 million – would be needed, in addition to the agency’s ongoing programmes.

WFP has been working with the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture to assess the scope of the increase in prices and identify those most affected by it. The price of wheat flour, for example, has increased by nearly 60 per cent throughout the country over the past year, with some locations having seen price increases of close to 80 per cent.

“These increases are not necessarily unique to Afghanistan,” Mr. Corsino stated, noting that over the past 12 months the price of wheat globally has increased by nearly 100 per cent. The increase is attributed to several factors, including higher demand for cereals in some parts of the world, particularly in Asia, the conversion and use of some grains for bio-fuels, and a poor harvest in one or two parts of the world that have traditionally had very strong wheat production.

In addition, there have been price increases in Pakistan, where much of Afghanistan’s wheat flour comes from. And within Afghanistan itself, insecurity in certain parts of the country has contributed to higher transport costs, leading to higher prices for basic commodities.

WFP is working with the Government on an appeal for food aid which will likely be launched next week. The assistance will most likely be distributed mainly through “food-for-work” projects in rural areas, Mr. Corsino said.

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