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April 5, 2008 

Taliban: French leader lied about troop levels in Afghanistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO,Associated Press Writer AP
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban's leadership council accused France's president Saturday of reneging on a campaign promise by pledging to send 700 more French troops to Afghanistan.

Afghan woman MP challenges parliament expulsion
Sat Apr 5, 7:00 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An Afghan woman MP controversially expelled from parliament a year ago for causing "insult" to fellow lawmakers said Saturday she had filed a petition for reinstatement.

Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan blast
Sat Apr 5, 3:09 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A Canadian soldier serving with the NATO-led force in Afghanistan was killed when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, military officials said Saturday.

US military officials question reliability of Pak, Afghan soldiers
New Kerala - Apr 05 5:01 AM
Washington, Apr 5 : US military officials fighting the Taliban along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are learnt to have said that both the Afghan and Pakistani soldiers were "unreliable", and that the US forces deployed here only fire across the line when fired at.

Afghan teen self-immolates after family row
04/ 04/ 2008
KABUL, April 4 (RIA Novosti) - A 16-year-old girl from the northern Afghan province of Takhar set herself ablaze after a family quarrel, provincial security chief Ziauddin Mohammadi said on Friday.

Australia should think before calling others underperformers in Afghanistan
Tom Hyland The Age, Australia April 6, 2008
RONALD van Dort doesn't know that both his legs were blown off last Sunday afternoon.

Female Afghan sprinter in a race against hate
San Francisco Chronicle - Politics Nick Meo, Chronicle Foreign Service Friday, April 4, 2008
Kabul, Afghanistan -Many athletes at the Olympic Games this summer will undoubtedly have overcome numerous obstacles to represent their country in Beijing. But only one has been forced to endure a hate campaign.

War makes girl, 10, mom of the family
The Canadian Press By James McCarten 04/04/2008
KANDAHAR -From down a dusty path reputed to be the second-most dangerous road in the world, a heart-wrenching sight emerged to greet Canadian soldiers Thursday -- a group of orphaned children led by a girl of no more than 10 came in search of medical care.

A Perfect Storm of Hunger
Los Angeles Times 04/04/2008
The U.N.'s World Food Program is struggling as costs of food and fuel skyrocket while the numbers of people needing help surge across the globe. Millions are in danger.

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Taliban: French leader lied about troop levels in Afghanistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO,Associated Press Writer AP
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban's leadership council accused France's president Saturday of reneging on a campaign promise by pledging to send 700 more French troops to Afghanistan.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the NATO summit in Romania this week said France would deploy 700 extra soldiers to Afghanistan.

The Taliban said that goes against an apparent campaign promise Sarkozy made in early 2007, when he told France-2 television "the long-term presence of French troops in that part of the world does not look definitive to me."

The hard-line militia said that broken pledge was in line with other NATO leaders "lying" to their nations about the progress being made in Afghanistan.

"When he said to his nation that he was going to withdraw his forces when he becomes president, the Taliban released two (kidnapped) French nationals," said the Taliban statement, which was read over the phone by spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

"But he is a liar. Instead of withdrawing forces he is sending more troops. All the NATO leaders are lying to their nations."

The Taliban last May released two kidnapped French aid workers after five weeks in captivity. A militant spokesman at the time said the pair were released in consideration of Sarkozy's comments, which appeared to signal an upcoming pullout. The Taliban had demanded the withdrawal of all French troops in exchange for the pair's freedom.

The Taliban also said Saturday the NATO summit was "just propaganda" without any practical effect.

NATO countries "have told their nations that they are going to bring peace to Afghanistan and they are going to reconstruct Afghanistan, but they couldn't do anything for the Afghan people," Mujahid said. "Instead they are bombing the agricultural lands and the houses of Afghan people. They are not reconstructing, they are destroying Afghanistan."

The international community has spent hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) on new roads, schools and government offices in Afghanistan, but many average Afghans say they don't derive any benefit from the aid money.

The Taliban statement said the militia would defeat NATO forces the same way mujahedeen fighters defeated Soviet forces in the 1980s.

Last year was Afghanistan's bloodiest since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. More than 8,000 people died in insurgency-related violence, according to U.N. figures.

U.S. and NATO troop levels in Afghanistan are at their highest ever. The U.S. now has about 31,000 troops in Afghanistan of about 60,000 total international forces.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday said the United States intends to send many more combat forces to Afghanistan next year, regardless of whether troop levels in Iraq are cut further this year.

It is the first time the Bush administration has made such a commitment for 2009. Gates did not specify how many more troops might be sent.
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Afghan woman MP challenges parliament expulsion
Sat Apr 5, 7:00 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An Afghan woman MP controversially expelled from parliament a year ago for causing "insult" to fellow lawmakers said Saturday she had filed a petition for reinstatement.

The war-torn nation's legislature, dominated by former anti-Soviet Islamic warlords, kicked out Malalai Joya after she described fellow MPs as "worse than donkeys and cows" in a television interview last May.

"The parliament's move was not only against freedom of speech and democratic values but it was fully against the constitution," she said, adding that she will fight her way back to the house through legal action.

"It has been two months now that I have filed a petition over my expulsion from the parliament," Joya told reporters in Kabul. "My case is proceeding in courts," she added.

Joya, 29, has attracted attention for her uncompromising-stand against warlords involved in the nation's bloody past conflicts who are now dominating the parliament in which she had a seat.

She repeated her statement, saying; "The comments I had made were even an insult to animals," she said, referring to her May 2007 interview on Tolo TV after which she was expelled from the legislature.

To a question about why she did not appeal against her expulsion earlier, Joya said: "I had two reasons, one it was for security reasons and second I didn't have enough money to hire a lawyer," she added.

Mohammad Zaman Azhar, Joya's lawyer told the same press conference that he would lead her case and was optimistic of victory.

Her expulsion is against the constitution," Azhar added.
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Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan blast
Sat Apr 5, 3:09 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A Canadian soldier serving with the NATO-led force in Afghanistan was killed when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, military officials said Saturday.

The soldier's armoured vehicle hit "what we suspect to be an improvised explosive device" in Kandahar province on Friday, the Canadian defence ministry said in a statement.

Canada has 2,500 troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), most of them in Kandahar province, one of the worst areas hit by unrest linked to an insurgency led by the extremist Taliban movement.

ISAF said the soldier "died Friday from injuries sustained in an explosion during a patrol in southern Afghanistan."

The latest casualty brought to 37 the number of foreign troops who have died this year in Afghanistan.

More than 70,000 international troops, most of them serving under the UN-mandated ISAF, are deployed in Afghanistan to fight back a Taliban-led insurgency plaguing the south and east of the country.

Canada had been pressing its NATO allies to commit 1,000 additional troops to the war-torn south, as well as drones and medium-lift helicopters for use by Canadian troops as a condition of its continued deployment until 2011.

France and the United States said they would send troop reinforcements.
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US military officials question reliability of Pak, Afghan soldiers
New Kerala - Apr 05 5:01 AM
Washington, Apr 5 : US military officials fighting the Taliban along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are learnt to have said that both the Afghan and Pakistani soldiers were "unreliable", and that the US forces deployed here only fire across the line when fired at.

A report published in the Washington Post quotes the military officials as saying that the villagers of the area were ambivalent and that at some places there were even disputes as to where the real border lies.

Captain Chris Hammonds, commander of Attack Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, said: "The Pakistan military is corrupt and lets people come through". He added that Pakistani forces reportedly told insurgents the location of his observation post, and when US troops in a firefight call the Pakistani military for help, they never answer the phone.

A greater frustration was that they cannot trust their Pakistani counterparts, said Hammonds.

The report also quotes other US officials charging that over the past 18 months, the Taliban fighters had exploited peace deals by Pakistan's government to create an unprecedented haven in the region. From there, insurgents have escalated attacks in Pakistan and in eastern Afghanistan, leading the US last year to double its troop presence along more than 600 miles of the frontier. However, recent high-level talks among the three countries have called for more intelligence-sharing and coordinated operations along the border.

US commanders say they need at least 50 percent more US troops and more reconstruction money. At current levels, they said, it will take at least five years to quell insurgent attacks, which increased by nearly 40 percent in eastern Afghanistan last year, including a 22 percent rise in attacks along the border.
--- ANI
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Afghan teen self-immolates after family row
04/ 04/ 2008
KABUL, April 4 (RIA Novosti) - A 16-year-old girl from the northern Afghan province of Takhar set herself ablaze after a family quarrel, provincial security chief Ziauddin Mohammadi said on Friday.

The girl died on her way to hospital after she had doused herself with petrol and set fire to herself. Her mother, who tried to extinguish the flames, was also badly hurt. The incident happened on Monday but was not announced until today.

During questioning, the family's neighbors claimed that the girl was constantly bullied by her mother and brother. The girl's father denied that there had been any violence, however, saying that "such squabbles are common in the family."

Since the collapse of Taliban rule in 2001, the Afghan constitution has accorded women equal rights with men, stating that "the citizens of Afghanistan - whether men or women - have equal rights and duties before the law."

Despite this, physical violence against women and girls is increasingly rapidly in Afghanistan, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has said that in 2007 it recorded over 2000 cases of violence and the "psychological oppression of women." 165 cases of self-immolation among the female population of the war-torn country were also recorded.

Womankind Worldwide, a U.K.-based women's rights NGO, says that according to its statistics 80% of Afghan women regularly face domestic violence, 60% of marriages are coerced, and that half of all women marry before the age of 16, with some girls as young as 6-years-old being forced to take husbands.
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Australia should think before calling others underperformers in Afghanistan
Tom Hyland The Age, Australia April 6, 2008
RONALD van Dort doesn't know that both his legs were blown off last Sunday afternoon.

The Dutch soldier is in a coma in the Netherlands, where he was flown after his armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province. He is 26 and was due to end his tour in three weeks.

He didn't rate a line in Australian newspapers, nor did 11 other soldiers wounded in four attacks on Dutch troops in the past week even though they serve in the same province as Australian troops. The largest Australian unit in Afghanistan is part of a Dutch-led force, but that didn't make van Dort's injuries any more newsworthy, either.

What we did hear about were Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's efforts at last week's NATO summit to cajole European countries to shoulder a greater share of the burden in Afghanistan.

He argued that Australia's contribution of 1000 troops is the largest by a non-NATO member, and that its forces, unlike some Europeans, serve in a danger zone in combat roles.

Mr Rudd and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon are not referring to the Netherlands which has lost 14 soldiers in Afghanistan when they complain about NATO's "underperformers".

Diplomacy dictates they have to be circumspect about naming names. But there are other reasons for caution.

One "underperformer", Germany, has 3500 troops in the relatively secure north of the country, in non-combat roles. Yet 25 Germans have died in Afghanistan, more than half as a result of enemy action.

The French, with 1400 troops (about to be reinforced with another 800) also in stable areas, have lost 12; the Spanish have lost 23; 12 Italians have been killed. That some died in accidents does not lessen the loss.

Three countries have suffered the bulk of the 789 coalition fatalities in Afghanistan the US (490), Britain (91), and Canada (81). Denmark, with 780 troops in Afghanistan, has lost 14.

Four Australian soldiers have been killed there.

The body-count calculus means Australia should exercise restraint when it complains about who's carrying heavy loads. Otherwise, somebody might ask us to put our money and our soldiers where our mouth is.
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Female Afghan sprinter in a race against hate
San Francisco Chronicle - Politics Nick Meo, Chronicle Foreign Service Friday, April 4, 2008
Kabul, Afghanistan -Many athletes at the Olympic Games this summer will undoubtedly have overcome numerous obstacles to represent their country in Beijing. But only one has been forced to endure a hate campaign.

Sprinter Mehboba Andyar has received threatening midnight phone calls, been jeered at by hostile neighbors and harassed by police. The anger is directed at the 19-year-old runner for being Afghanistan's sole female Olympic athlete. In a conservative Muslim society where few women have roles outside the home, many Afghan men believe females should not compete in sports.

"There have been so many phone calls from people saying I shouldn't be an athlete. There are often strange men hanging outside my home," she said. "Sometimes stones are thrown at the windows at night, and we have had threatening letters. I don't worry about these threats, but if my family didn't want me to go (to Beijing), I wouldn't."

Neighbors scream abuse and threaten her with physical harm each time she leaves her small mud-brick home in a Kabul slum to run. Last month, police officers arrested her father after a neighbor complained that Andyar had been entertaining strange men. Even though she was merely giving an interview to a French journalist and his translator, she says the police hauled the three men to the station. They were soon released after the precinct police chief intervened and apologized, she says.

Since the announcement early this year that she would represent Afghanistan in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter races, the determined Andyar refuses to be intimidated.

"I knew that I would have to be strong to be a runner in Afghanistan," she said. "At least my family and fellow athletes support me and want me to run for my country."

To be sure, she does have some male supporters, especially among the young and educated.

"If a woman likes sports, she should do it," said Naimullah, a 24-year-old university student who goes by just one name. "Afghanistan is changing. In a few years, people won't think this is anything unusual."
When Andyar arrives in Beijing to compete against the world's top runners who have honed their skills at some of the world's best facilities, she knows she has little chance of winning a gold, silver or bronze medal.

"We don't expect her to win," said Habibullah Niazi, a member of Afghanistan's Olympic committee. "But participating in the Olympic Games and running as an Afghan woman athlete is an achievement. All sports people support her. Unfortunately, many of the people do not."

Her interest in running began under the fundamentalist Taliban government in 1998, when she began jogging around the family's enclosed yard in Kabul to avoid the patrols of the Taliban's religious police. Aside from banning television, movies, music and kite flying, the Taliban prevented girls from going to school or work and participating in sports.

When the family fled to Pakistan, her father couldn't afford to join an athletic club where she could train properly. Instead, she ran at a park in Islamabad.

Today, Andyar trains on a cracked concrete track in the same national stadium the Taliban used for public executions. The track, bordered by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire, circles a patch of dried yellow grass where boys play soccer. She dons a track suit and head scarf and plans to do the same in Beijing.

"I am an Afghan, so I have to dress modestly," she said. "It is my culture."

Her training regimen is often interrupted by dust storms that sweep through the city. And to avoid the neighbors' wrath, she runs along potholed streets near her home at night while they are watching popular soap operas, maneuvering around trash piles and open drains.

Later this month, the Afghan and International Olympic committees plan to send Andyar and the only other member of Afghanistan's Olympic squad - a 20-year-old male sprinter named Massoud Azizi - to Malaysia to train at adequate facilities. There, coach Shahpoor Amiri hopes Andyar will be able to focus on running.

"She is an inspiration," Amiri said. "For us, it is enough that an Afghan girl is going to the Beijing games."
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War makes girl, 10, mom of the family
The Canadian Press By James McCarten 04/04/2008 
KANDAHAR -From down a dusty path reputed to be the second-most dangerous road in the world, a heart-wrenching sight emerged to greet Canadian soldiers Thursday -- a group of orphaned children led by a girl of no more than 10 came in search of medical care.

The girl, an emerald-green scarf around her head, carried a toddler in her arms as they made their way tentatively toward a police substation manned by Canadian soldiers and Afghan police officers, in the heart of the treacherous Panjwaii district, birthplace of the Taliban.

Details of their background were sketchy at best, but interpreters said they walked nearly two hours over perilous terrain in search of help, said Sgt. Mike McKay, from Bravo Company, 2 Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton.

Both of their parents are dead and the kids live with a "deranged" uncle who doesn't provide much care, said McKay, 37, from Winnipeg.

"For me, it's heartbreaking," he said. "There's a 10-year-old girl who's living what's probably the hardest lesson in life: you're the oldest one, you're now in charge."

The children sat down at the edge of a stretch of razor wire as police and soldiers gathered to inspect the patient: a boy of about five, his almost hairless scalp red with patches of infected skin.

Cpl. Robert Gould, a medic with A Company, 3 Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, also based in Edmonton, happened to be travelling in one of the many patrols that grind up and down the road, popular with insurgents seeking to plant improvised explosive devices.

"Tell him this is going to burn a little," Gould told an interpreter as he cleaned the festering sores with alcohol before applying antiseptic ointment and gauze bandages.

Gould, 23, from Peterborough, Ont., said the children had been to the sub-station before, hoping for some form of treatment and whatever charity they could scrounge.

The entire procedure took only a few minutes but could well end up preventing the infection from becoming even more serious or even life-threatening, he added.

Plus, such gestures might one day bear fruit, Gould said.

"If all they've been taught is to hate, then that's what they're going to do, they're going to hate," he said.

"If we just keep shooing them away and shooing them away, if people get tired of seeing them here, if you're going to play that game, that has relevant factors down the road, not just for us, but for everyone else."

Afghanistan, a country ravaged by decades of war and centuries of poverty, had an estimated 1.6 million orphaned children out of a population of about 26 million in 2005, according to UNICEF statistics.

It also ranks third in the world in countries where a child is most likely to die before the age of five; there were 257,000 such deaths in 2006. The average life span in Afghanistan is just 43 years.

One interpreter tried to convince the soldiers to take the children into Kandahar city, where they would have access to local orphanage facilities and aid agencies.

But the military can't be seen to be ferrying orphans across Afghanistan, McKay said.

"The children are the victims in this whole mess," McKay said.

"At 10, she's not a mom. In Canada, 10-year-olds are playing with Barbies and on a swing and stuff like that, and she's already taking responsibility for being a mother."

About an hour later, McKay returned to the substation gate to find the children still sitting in the same spot, clearly unsure of whether to begin their long, dangerous trek home.

"I think we should set up an orphanage ourselves," he said, straight-faced and gesturing to one of the many deserted mud-walled compounds that line the road throughout Panjwaii.
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A Perfect Storm of Hunger
Los Angeles Times 04/04/2008
The U.N.'s World Food Program is struggling as costs of food and fuel skyrocket while the numbers of people needing help surge across the globe. Millions are in danger.

For 15 years, he's been a "grocer" for Africa's destitute. But he's never seen anything like this.Pascal Joannes' job is to find grains, beans and oils to fill a food basket for Sudan's neediest people, from Darfur refugees to schoolchildren in the barren south. Lately Joannes has spent less time shopping and more time poring over commodity price lists, usually in disbelief. "White beans at $1,160," the white-haired Belgian, 52, cries in despair over the price of a metric ton. "Complete madness! I bought them two years ago in Ethiopia for $235."Joannes is head of procurement in Sudan for the World Food Program, the United Nations agency in charge of alleviating world hunger.Meteoric food and fuel prices, a slumping dollar, the demand for biofuels and a string of poor harvests have combined to abruptly multiply WFP's operating costs, even as needs increase. In other words, if the number of needy people stayed constant, it would take much more money to feed them. But the number of people needing help is surging dramatically. It is what WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran calls "a perfect storm" hitting the world's hungry.The agency last month issued an emergency appeal for money to cover a shortfall tallied at more than half a billion dollars and growing. It said it might have to reduce food rations or cut people off altogether.The most vulnerable are people like those in Sudan, whom Joannes is struggling to feed and who rely heavily, perhaps exclusively, on the aid. But at least as alarming, WFP officials say, is the emerging community of newly needy.

These are the people who once ate three meals a day and could afford nominal healthcare or to send their children to school. They are more likely to live in urban areas and buy most of their food in a market. They are the urban poor in Afghanistan, where the government has asked for urgent help. They are families in Central America, who have been getting by on remittances from relatives abroad, but who can no longer make ends meet as the price of corn and beans nearly doubles. "This is largely a new caseload," John Aylieff, the emergency coordinator for the WFP's assessment division, said at the agency's Rome headquarters. Aylieff and his staff assess the vulnerability of people in 121 countries. About 40 of the nations have been judged to be at risk of serious hunger, or already suffering from it. The criteria include: how much does the country rely on imported food; how large is the urban population; what is the current rate of inflation, and what portion of their income do families spend on food (in Burundi, for example, it's 77%; in the U.S. it's 10%).In the short term, officials predict food riots and political unrest, as has occurred in recent weeks in Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt. In Egypt, shortages of government- subsidized bread recently triggered strikes, demonstrations and violence in which seven people died.In the longer term, overall health worsens and education levels decline. "Finally they end up selling their productive assets [and] that pretty much means they will remain economically destitute, even when things come back to normal," said Arif Husain, senior program advisor for the assessment division, who recently moved to the WFP's Rome headquarters after years in Sudan.

Countries are taking steps to avert widespread hunger. Some, like Egypt and Indonesia, have quickly expanded subsidies; others, like China, have banned exports of precious commodities. Afghanistan was the first country to request urgent help. President Hamid Karzai in January asked the agency to feed an additional 2.5 million people, most of them urban poor, in addition to the 5 million rural people the agency already feeds. In Kabul, the Afghan capital, Abdul Fatah and his wife Nooriya raise their five children on her teacher's salary; he lost his government job a year ago. "Life is getting harder day by day," said Fatah, who is 45 but looks far older. "We cannot even buy meat once a month. The price of wheat in Afghanistan has risen by more than two-thirds in the last year. Because staples such as rice, oil and beans are also expensive, Fatah and his wife are sometimes unable to buy pens and notebooks for the children to use in school. Unable to afford both food and lamp oil, the household goes to sleep early. Kabul homemaker Mahmooda Sharif, a mother of three, said that instead of eating meat twice a week, her family can now afford it only twice a month. The cost of food competes with school expenses and medical bills. She has delayed dental visits because she can't afford them.

A world away in El Salvador, in hills that once yielded abundant harvests of coffee, signs of malnutrition are spreading. Salvadorans need twice the money to buy the same amount of food they could purchase a year ago, meaning their nutritional sustenance is cut in half, the WFP says. "My children ask for food, and how can I not feed them? They ask for some eggs, beans, and I give it to them," said Maria De Las Mercedes Ramirez, a 41-year-old mother of five. "I, as the mother, will eat less." The Ramirezes are one of about 70 families living in shacks on a desolate coffee plantation near the town of Taltapanca, abandoned more than a decade ago when coffee prices took a dive. Most of the families are run by mothers; the fathers have left to find work in the Salvadoran capital, or out of the country. Ramirez lives on about $80 a month that comes from wages her husband sends and the little she can eke from an occasional job pruning coffee plants. What Ramirez spends on corn has shot up more than 50% in the last few months, cooking oil is up 75%, and beans have doubled in price.

Many families rely heavily on schools that give students one meal a day. "You can see a lot of concern in their faces when they come to pick up their kids," principal Delsy Amilia Chavez said of the mothers. "And some of the mothers are anemic. They can't afford to eat beans and aren't getting the iron they need." The school meals are provided by the WFP, but the agency is transferring the program to the government and reports that some schools have been unable to continue them. Carlo Scaramella, the WFP country director in El Salvador, said hurricanes and drought last year added an additional 160,000 people to the 100,000 that the agency was already feeding. One million are at risk, he said.

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak ordered army-owned bakeries that produce 1.2 million loaves a day to pour more bread onto the general market. The government also allocated almost $1 billion to bread subsidies for 2008. It subsidizes 210 million loaves of flat round bread a day, the main item on most Egyptians' daily menu. As commodity prices soared, subsidized bread became precious, and fights broke out in queues at bakeries and stores. The price of unsubsidized bread has gone up 10 times, and rice doubled in a single week, said Farag Wahba Ahmed, an official with Egypt's Chamber of Commerce.
In Sudan, where the WFP oversees the largest emergency food operation in the world, aid officials are drafting contingency plans for coping with a smaller supply. In Darfur, especially, they must tread carefully. "There's no way we can come in and say, 'We have no more food,' " Joannes said. "It would create riots." Darfur, the beleaguered region in western Sudan, accounts for three-fourths of the WFP's operation here, which in total distributes 632,000 metric tons of food valued at $700 million to 5.6 million people (more than in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia combined). The WFP has sought to lower costs by turning to regional markets to buy food. Buying from local farmers helps the budget since it eliminates shipping costs. But because the WFP is such a big buyer, it has to be careful not to distort the market. A 30% increase in costs in Sudan in the last four months is blamed chiefly on rising prices for locally produced sorghum. The WFP is already absorbing 6% of the national production and fears that buying more would destabilize the market. Joannes boasts that he found a good deal recently on a mix of lentils from Ethiopia, buying them for only $700 a metric ton, far less than the going rate for white beans. But bargains are hard to find.

Back in Rome, Nicole Menage, head of the food procurement service, receives daily, sometimes hourly, reports on rising prices and falling reserves. It's like a mammoth board game, with multiple moving pieces. She and her associates last year managed to find in China 12,000 tons of maize needed urgently in nearby North Korea. Then, suddenly, China slapped on an export ban and the agency ended up finding the maize in Tanzania. "The only tool we have is to stretch the net as far as possible," she said.
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