A multi-million dollar funding gap for the United Nations World Food Program’s work in Afghanistan has resulted in cutbacks on relief projects throughout the country. These cutbacks have forced families to take on debt, reduce their dietary intake and sell their assets and livestock, according to Nigel Fisher, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. Worse yet, families may be forcing their girls into early marriages to relieve demands on family food supplies.
The WFP Emergency Operation in Afghanistan currently faces a shortfall of 215,400 tons of food worth approximately $123 million, or 43 percent of the total requirements. “Measures have been taken to scale down distributions, some Food for Work rehabilitation projects have been suspended, returning refugees and internally displaced persons are now receiving a third of their re-settlement packages and food assistance to civil servants may be curtailed in the near future,” said WFP spokesman Alejandro Chicheri.
But, larger-than-expected numbers of refugees coming home from Pakistan has exacerbated the food shortage, as tensions in Kashmir between India and Pakistan have led some Afghans to return home sooner than expected, USA Today reported Thursday. “If there is war, all the refugees would come back quickly,” said Ragnhild Elk, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. More than 880,000 refugees, nearly all from Pakistan, have returned to Afghanistan since March.
The UN has determined that Afghanistan is still undergoing a humanitarian crisis, and not enough funding is present to ameliorate the situation. “President Bush has said that the US will not abandon the Afghan people,” said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. “Now is the time to act.” Not only is immediate funding desperately needed, but increased security is of utmost importance. Human Rights Watch has reported increased factional fighting in Afghanistan and the use of violence and intimidation by regional warlords to control the loya jirga process. Without an expansion of peacekeeping forces, democracy will be jeopardized, and Afghanistan may once again fall victim to terrorism.