Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Afghanistan: Government betrays its people by failing to deliver promised wheat

Millions of Afghans have been pushed into high-risk food insecurity because of drought, high food prices and conflict, according to aid agencies

Less than 30 percent of the 166,000 tonnes of wheat the Afghan government promised to distribute to tens of thousands of people during the winter months (October-March) has been delivered so far, according to the Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA).

With only two a few weeks till the end of the cold season, the government is yet to source and deliver over 115,000 tonnes of wheat to people affected by drought, high food prices and conflict.

Before the winter, the Afghan government agreed to provide 166,000 tonnes of wheat to 21 of the country’s 34 provinces in order to prevent hunger.

Several government bodies, including the ministries of commerce, rural rehabilitation and development, as well as ANDMA, were tasked with implementing the national winter aid programme, in collaboration with international aid agencies such as the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

“We have delivered about 45,000 tonnes of the planned aid and will distribute 35,000 tonnes in the coming few weeks,” Abdul Matin Edrak, ANDMA’s director, told IRIN on 4 March.

Severe drought which reduced domestic agricultural production by 35 percent in 2008, sudden hikes in food prices, and problems resulting from armed conflict have pushed about eight million people into high risk food insecurity, aid organisations say.

“Of the 9,500 tonnes promised to Faryab Province for the winter, only 1,800 tonnes have been delivered,” Aman Salimi, head of the provincial department for rural rehabilitation and development, told IRIN, adding that even the promised aid was insufficient to meet needs.

In the northeastern province of Badakhshan, only 5,000 tonnes of the promised 15,000 tonnes had reached the provincial capital, and in central-western Ghor Province 4,500 tonnes of the planned 11,400 had been delivered, provincial officials said.


ANDMA said shortcomings in private companies contracted by the government to procure and import wheat from abroad were partly to blame. Bureaucratic bottlenecks and poor coordination among various agencies had allegedly delayed aid deliveries, and “contracts were belatedly issued to the private sector by the Ministry of Commerce,” said ANDMA’s Edrak

Access restrictions resulting from insecurity, a poor communications infrastructure and winter-related road blockages had also adversely affected aid activities, officials said.

Daud Sultanzoy, a member of parliament, however, accused the National Emergency Committee (NEC) - comprised of several government bodies, including ANDMA, and chaired by the country’s second vice-president, Karim Khalili - of institutional inefficiency and mismanagement.

“Every year we suffer similar problems,” Sultanzoy told IRIN.

“Assessments, planning, implementation and everything are flawed here because the government does not even have a reliable population census on which to base and develop appropriate policies,” he said.

Edrak hopes the newly established UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) will help improve coordination and enhance disaster management capacity.

Dangerous promises?

Senior government officials often make pledges of humanitarian aid to local communities in a bid to win local support or appease disenchanted communities, but these cannot always be fulfilled, and in some cases they backfire: The inability of the government to keep its promises has sparked violence and local protests.

At least one person was killed and four wounded in a scuffle during a food aid distribution in Balkhab District, Sar-i-Pul Province, northern Afghanistan, in February.

Riots have also been reported over the alleged unfairness of aid handouts, the lack of aid or its theft, as well as attacks on aid distributers.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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