As relief agencies rush to get food supplies in place before the snows essentially block mountain passes in Afghanistan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced this morning that they will be using federal money to purchase local wheat supplies. (See attachment below.) While the U.S. wheat industry strongly urges agencies to utilize U.S. commodities whenever possible -- and, in fact, U.S. wheat shipments are currently on their way to the region -- in this case purchases of nearby food supplies are essential to meet the immediate humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
USAID announced that they are providing $6 million to the United Nations World Food Program to purchase 15,000 metric tons of wheat from Kazakhstan, for delivery to emergency operations in northern Afghanistan. Additionally, USAID has signed contracts with several other relief organizations for the local purchase of another 13,495 MT of wheat and other commodities.
"We do not oppose using U.S. funds to alleviate the immediate crisis in that manner," USW president Alan Tracy informed U.S. government officials earlier this week. Because of the Taliban, the world is likely to see death and starvation on a massive scale as Afghanistan enters the coming winter, and Tracy said the U.S. wheat industry stands behind relief efforts. "The needs of starving people come before any parochial concerns."
After 22 years of war, three years of severe drought, and five years of Taliban rule, the people of Afghanistan continue to face major famine. The UN Security Council has pointed to the Taliban's repressive policies and harassment of expatriate relief agency workers as being directly responsible for the current crisis.
This year's U.S. wheat supplies to Afghanistan, donated through the World Food Program, have been arriving in the area since early July. Relief officials estimate that there are currently 45,000 metric tons (MT) of food aid in the region, and another 165,000 MT of donated U.S. wheat is en route.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country, so logistics are difficult in even less dire circumstances. 75,000 tons of donated U.S. wheat, under the PL 480 program, was shipped earlier this summer. In late October, another 40,000 metric tons landed in Pakistan, and yet another delivery of 25,000 metric tons is scheduled for discharge at Bandar Abbas, Iran, in early November. More PL 480 shipments are scheduled for November and December loading. Thus, U.S. wheat is available to transport into Afghanistan from the south and from the east.
The immediate problem, according to USAID officials, is getting wheat and other supplies to northern Afghanistan. The most viable solution is to purchase wheat from Kazakhstan, transport it to Turkmenistan for bagging, and then deliver it to WFP's northern Afghanistan emergency operation.
"The U.S. wheat farmer is an American first," Tracy said, "and our farmers are proud to do all we can to help the global effort.
"Most of the time, U.S. wheat can help solve hunger. When children are in danger of starving, however, it becomes less relevant whose flag is on the wheat bag."
The United States has contributed more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people since 1979, more than any other country, and has supplied more than 80 percent of all food shipments sent to vulnerable Afghans through the United Nations' World Food Program. The U.S. will continue to be the leading food donor to the Afghan people.