UN Food Agency Opens Air Link to Afghanistan
The World Food Program (WFP) said it had opened an air bridge to Afghanistan Friday to rush food to some 274,000 "desperately hungry" people in danger of being cut off by winter.
One Hercules transport plane will fly four daily missions, carrying a total of 70 tons of food, from Tajikistan to the northeastern Afghan town of Faizabad over the next two weeks, the WFP said in a statement.
A spokesman for the UN food agency, Khaled Mansour, said some people in the northeast were in danger of starvation in the winter months unless the food aid could be delivered.
"They would starve without this food because these districts are almost completely dependent on food aid and they have nothing to harvest during the winter," he told AFP.
"The air bridge is an escalation of our effort. This is a race against time for the snow-blocked areas."
The WFP said 2,000 tons of food would be flown into Faizabad, weather permitting, over the next few weeks, for distribution in various districts where roads are often blocked by snow in winter.
"Time is ticking, winter has started and we need to get this food as quickly as possible into those less accessible regions," said WFP Afghanistan Country Director Burkard Oberle.
"The air bridge will enable us to get food rapidly and effectively into this desperate region ahead of the winter snows."
The United Nations says around six million Afghans out of an estimated 21 million population are in need of international aid due to more than two decades of war and three years of drought.
The crisis has been compounded since the Taliban militia, which until recently ruled most of the country, became the target of US-led air strikes for its alliance with alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden.
The WFP said it was also using a fleet of heavy-duty trucks contracted from the Russian government and fitted with snow-moving equipment to keep the mountain passes open as long as possible.
It said it needed to transport 9,000 tons of wheat flour, enough to feed the most vulnerable people for four months, into Faizabad from Tajikistan before the winter snows set in.
More than 3,000 tons had already been trucked into Faizabad from Kyrgyzstan.
The Taliban has abandoned most of the north and the capital Kabul in the past two weeks, leaving a power vacuum in some places where local bandits and tribal groups have become active.
The WFP has had to suspend some overland food convoys from the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta due to security concerns, but on Monday a convoy left from the northwestern border town of Peshawar.
WFP aid also started to arrive by canal barge from Termez in Uzbekistan on November 14. Since then some 1,142 tons of food has been delivered to the Mazar-i-Sharif region in northern Afghanistan.
A 15-truck aid convoy from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was due to leave this week from the northeastern Iranian town of Mashad for Herat in western Afghanistan -- ISLAMABAD (AFP)