Pace of Food Aid to Afghans Picking Up, U.S. Says
By Jonathan Wright
Monday December 10 5:09 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The pace of food deliveries to hungry Afghans has greatly increased since the end of November, making up some of the ground lost at the start of the U.S. military campaign, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.
In the first nine days of December, Afghanistan received 29,585 tons of food, well above the target of 1,800 tons a day, the Agency for International Development said.
Charts prepared by the World Food Program showed that the rate of internal distribution to the 7.5 million needy Afghans has also increased sharply since the start of the month, sometimes to twice the daily target figure.
``I think we've caught it (the famine) in time, and I think we're getting the mortality rates down to a lower level,'' AID Administrator Andrew Natsios told a briefing.
``I didn't think we could do it. So I'm more optimistic now than any time during even November,'' he added.
When the United States started bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7, aid agencies worried that the campaign would disrupt supplies to a country already ravaged by three years of drought.
Natsios' figures showed that the initial effect of the bombing was, indeed, devastating but that the flow of food started to pick up again toward the end of October.
Natsios said he was particularly pleased with deliveries to Hazarajat, Afghanistan's central alpine plateau, where he said 1 million people risked starvation.
The international community had calculated that it needed to deliver 30,000 tons of food aid to the plateau before the end of December, when access by land will become impossible.
``WFP has now got that much in country, or the trucks are on the way loaded with food to achieve that 30,000-tonobjective, so I think we're going to meet the goal,'' Natsios said.
Another break was Uzbekistan's decision to reopen the Friendship Bridge across the Amu Darya River at the weekend.
But on Sunday, the first day it was open, the Uzbeks found parts of the rails and the roadway needed repair, Natsios said.
``Those are being repaired today, and we hope tomorrow a second shipment will go across the bridge. It's trucks, cars and jeeps that are needed on the other side.'' he added.
The Bush administration has not yet decided whether to support proposals that an international security force in Afghanistan take on the task of protecting food convoys.
Insecurity has been a serious problem in Afghanistan in recent weeks as local warlords and bandits replace the ruling Taliban and divide the country into fiefdoms.
Natsios said, ``There is a security issue, and there is an active discussion going on within the interagency process that we are involved in on what form that (protection) should take. I think a decision will be made very shortly.''
Richard Haass, the State Department's coordinator for Afghanistan policy, said last week that the proposed force could protect every convoy.
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