Race to distribute supplies before weather worsens

War against terrorism: Aid organisations
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The Independent Online

More than 30 international and Afghan aid agencies are involved in the desperate struggle to stockpile enough food in Afghanistan to feed 7.5 million people this winter.

From co-operatives distributing sacks of grain to remote villages to the United Nation's World Food Programme (WFP), the humanitarian operation has five weeks to act before freezing conditions set in. These are some of the organisations involved in what the UN called on Friday a "real race against time".

Food delivery: The World Food Programme

The UN's food aid agency has set itself the task of delivering 55,000 tons of grain, pulses and oil per month from its bases in Pakistan, Iran and Turkmenistan. But WFP convoys have been hampered by border closures, bureaucracy and a lack of trucks and drivers.

Independent observers estimate the agency needs to move 700 truckloads of aid every day for the next five weeks to stockpile the 250,000 tons of food needed for the winter.

A WFP spokesman said yesterday that it could still deliver into main cities, such as Herat, Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif during the winter but air-drops would be needed to reach other areas.

The local distributors: Oxfam/Christian Aid

The two UK agencies are part of a series involved in helping with the local distribution of WFP aid. Their 400 local staff work around Kandahar, Herat, Kabul, and Faisabad in Northern Alliance territory.

Oxfam workers based in Pakistan said their main priority for aid was the central region of Hazarajat – a vast and remote area where some 2 million of the 7.5 million Afghans reliant on aid live. Once the first snows arrive in the middle of November, Hazarajat will be accessible only by air, according to Oxfam.

Christian Aid, which works in Afghanistan by funding five Afghan aid agencies, has committed £3.75m towards its efforts to counter the food crisis.

Before the events of 11 September, its work had been dedicated towards measures to beat the three-year drought that has turned Afghan farmland into a desert.

It is now concentrating on food distribution and efforts to prop up Afghanistan's crumbling social infrastructure.

Mothers and children: Save the Children/Unicef

The column of refugees that was feared to emerge out of Afghanistan as US-led air strikes began has yet to materialise – leaving agencies inside and outside the country in a quandary.

Save the Children has told its 200 Afghan staff to lie low for the first week of air strikes but in Pakistan it has been working with the UN to secure camps for the anticipated refugees.

Unicef, the UN children's fund, is continuing to send medicines, food and water purification equipment. A convoy from Iran arrived in Herat yesterday and two more are planned this weekend.

Medicines and medical care: British Red Cross/ Médecins Sans Frontières/Merlin

With 1,000 Afghan staff and more than 50 clinics and hospitals in Afghanistan, the Red Cross and Red Crescent has one of the largest aid operations in the country.

Mario Musa, the International Committee of the Red Cross representative in Islamabad, said medical supplies had been stockpiled for winter before the 11 September attacks. He said: "Food is the main concern – after three years of drought people have nothing."

The French charity MSF, which is also active in Afghanistan, has been at the forefront of criticism of military air-drops of food rations, calling them "military propaganda".

London-based Merlin has sent a team of 60 staff to the Tajikistan border, where it is providing medical aid.

Islamic relief:

The Muslim charity has been working for nine years in Afghanistan using funds raised in Britain and donations from bodies including the British Government. Since mid-September it has been working alongside the World Food Programme to distribute food.

A spokeswoman said: "Perhaps for the Taliban regime, a Muslim charity might be easier to deal with but for the people on the ground, the important thing is that they receive help."