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Taj Guard- Tajikistan Drought*

Food aid plea for 1m in Tajikistan

War and drought hit border state

Paul Kelso

Wednesday October 17, 2001

The scale of the humanitarian crisis facing central Asia became clear yesterday as the World Food Programme appealed for urgent food aid to assist around 1m people facing starvation in Tajikistan.

Like its southern neighbour Afghanistan, Tajikistan has suffered consecutive years of drought and civil war which have devastated harvests and left many with slim prospects of surviving the winter.

The WFP said yesterday that the food crises in Afghanistan and Tajikistan were both products of a regional problem, but the plight of Tajikistan had not attracted the same level of support as its neighbour.

"The spectre of famine looms for many of these people, who have already depleted their meagre savings and have virtually no employment opportunities," said Ardag Meghdessian, WFP director in Tajikistan.

"We have to help them survive the harsh winter. We are hoping that the generosity of the donor community towards the drought victims in Afghanistan will extend further north and help the hungry poor in Tajikistan, who are suffering from the same drought."

The WFP estimates that Tajikistan urgently requires 67,000 tonnes of food, worth $36m (£24.5m), to fill the gap caused by failed harvests.

Tajikistan had also been braced for an influx of 50,000 Afghan refugees, with stockpiles of 1,400 tonnes of food set aside. With the border closed the refugees have not yet emerged.

The WFP's dire predictions for Tajikistan come amid warnings that some 6m Afghans face starvation this winter. Since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington all foreign aid workers have left Afghanistan, and the US bombing raids have further disrupted food distribution.

Last week the international development secretary, Clare Short, said the Afghan people were facing "famine" conditions and pledged to increase the amount of food reaching the wartorn state.

Afghanistan's starving need more than 50,000 tonnes of food aid a month to get through the winter, but as yet there is no sign of the huge increase in traffic required to ship around 42,000 tonnes of aid waiting in warehouses surrounding Afghanistan before mid-November, when winter will close off much of the country for at least four months.

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