Afghanistan to Get $43 Mln in US Food Aid to Avert Famine
Washington, May 17 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. will dispatch $43 million in food aid to Afghanistan, stepping up its efforts to avert a famine in the war-torn country, while maintaining sanctions against its strict Islamic Taliban leaders.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the donation will include 65,000 tons of wheat, $5 million in other commodities and $10 million in related aid. More assistance for Afghan refugees will be announced soon, he said.
As many as 4 million Afghans are at risk of starvation because of a civil war and a third straight year of drought, Powell said. Thousands have fled into neighboring Pakistan.
``If the international community does not take immediate action, countless deaths and terrible tragedy are certain to follow,'' Powell said.
The aid package will boost total U.S. assistance to the southwest Asian nation of about 25 million people to $124 million so far this year from $114 million in 2000. The U.S. is the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Afghans, Powell said.
A United Nations survey in February and March of 360 Afghan villages found that almost a third of the farmers questioned aim to plant less than half the land they usually sow due to seed shortages and expectations of scarce rainfall. That could lead to a national harvest 40 percent smaller than in 1998, what the UN called the last normal farm year before the drought.
Widespread food shortages have come as Afghanistan's Taliban movement has worked to impose its control over the mountainous country, wracked by two decades of war.
Taliban leaders have insisted on a strict interpretation of Islamic law since winning control of 95 percent of the country after driving forces loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani from Kabul in 1996. The strictures include banning women from working and forcing them to wear head-to-toe coverings when they step out of their homes.
U.S. Seeks Action
``We hope the Taliban will act on a number of fundamental issues that separate us: their support for terrorism, their violation of internationally recognized human rights standards, especially their treatment of women and girls, and their refusal to resolve Afghanistan's civil war through a negotiated settlement,'' Powell said.
The regime is accused of harboring reputed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, an exiled Saudi businessman wanted in the U.S. in connection with the bombings of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 224 people and injuring thousands. Investigators are looking into possible links between bin Laden and the October bombing of the U.S. warship USS Cole in Yemen, in which 17 American sailors died and 39 were injured.
Bin Laden is accused of using money he made in various businesses to fund a jihad, or holy war, to force Western nations out of Islamic countries. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has listed the Saudi as one of its 10 most-wanted fugitives and is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
U.S. and Russian diplomats led a United Nations effort to impose an arms embargo and tightened other sanctions on the Taliban for refusing to hand over bin Laden. The arms embargo bans all sales of arms and military equipment, as well as military training, and demands the withdrawal of security advisers from Taliban-controlled areas.
Still, Afghanistan isn't among the seven countries on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, because its Taliban government isn't officially recognized by the U.S. and because much of the training occurs outside the government's reach.
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