News Release

Too Early to Declare Hunger Crisis Averted in Afghanistan


The Associated Press reported yesterday that Afghan villagers in Bonavash are starving while attempting to survive by eating grass. The following statement, released today (Jan. 9) by the Institute for Public Accuracy, is from James Jennings, president of the humanitarian aid organization Conscience International. Jennings will return to Afghanistan on Jan. 16 for the group’s third mission since May, bringing assistance with food, blankets and health care. [See:, ]

Statement by JAMES JENNINGS [Contact:]:

It is too early to declare a humanitarian disaster averted in Afghanistan. Early in the Afghan campaign the U.S. recognized that it was necessary to win victories on both the military and humanitarian fronts. Yet while emphasizing that the war is not over, Washington has already hailed an early victory over a looming famine that threatened to kill millions.

World Food Program emergency deliveries, using local Afghan employees, have largely replaced the needed grain tonnage lost or delayed by the war. But merely restoring capacity destroyed by the war hardly constitutes a victory, because the time lost in fighting hunger and malnutrition cannot easily be made up.

The main concerns remain security and stability for the whole country — not just the capital; delivery of large-scale food assistance to remote or inaccessible regions; and the scant nutritional value of the food basket. Longer-term worries include the fact that people have eaten their seed grain, the irrigation system remains devastated, and farmers failed to plant winter wheat during October and November because of the war and bombing campaign.

I still expect preventable deaths to be very high, perhaps in the lower range predicted earlier, but a deadline of next spring is artificial. I don’t think the higher numbers will be reached this winter, but even the lowest previous estimate of up to 1 million deaths is bad enough. What we are likely to see over time is a continuum, a slow ticking of the clock extending far beyond May, with death for many of the most vulnerable, especially children, as a result. Severe malnutrition already exists among a significant percentage of the population.

The food budget for wheat purchases is adequate for the immediate emergency, but a bread-only diet is certainly inadequate for the neediest people. A complex emergency is just that: complex. People die because of malnutrition, disease, inability to reach medical care, enforced migration, exposure, and unhygienic conditions in the refugee camps. Probably triple the amount now being spent by USAID would come nearer to solving the problem. I would spend more on transportation-related items, to make sure food aid reached the people in the mountains, and reached them in time to survive the winter. Then I would double the caloric value of the food basket by diversification, primarily with more legumes and ghee.

While USAID has done a fine job so far, last week USAID administrator Andrew Natsios did some fancy footwork with the numbers. They appear to be impressive, and indeed the December total tonnage is impressive. But in my calculation, it merely makes up for the amounts not delivered during the war. Still, it came a bit late. Put the lack of seed grain together with the inability to plant in October during the heaviest bombing, and the snows on mountain roads and trails, and you can see that, to reach their targets, WFP is delivering grain mostly to four cities: Mazar, Kabul, Jalalabad (which has road access to food supplies anyway and hasn’t suffered so much in the drought) and Herat. Secretary Rumsfeld may think things are infinitely better in Afghanistan than before the war, but I doubt if most of the burka-clad beggars I regularly see there would agree.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; Norman Solomon, (415) 552-5378