Select Committee on International Development First Report


Food and Non-food aid


43. Before the country was ravaged by conflict and civil war, agriculture was the bedrock of the Afghan economy. It was the main source of national output and employment, with about eighty-five per cent of the population directly dependent on agriculture[64]. The main crops were grain, rice, fruits, nuts and vegetables. There was a mix of subsistence and commercial farming and Afghanistan exported fruit, nuts and vegetables. Wheat was the main food crop, accounting for about three quarters of food grain production. Other important food crops included rice, maize and barley. Potatoes and various fruit crops were also produced, both for domestic consumption and as cash crops. Afghan dried fruits (mainly almonds and apricots) accounted for sixty percent of the world market in 1982, but declined to around sixteen percent in 1990 and has continued to decline (although the products are still important foreign exchange earners)[65]. Today much of the arable land in Afghanistan has been damaged by war and neglect. About twelve per cent of the country's total land is arable, with three per cent under forest cover, about forty-six per cent under permanent pastures, and the rest (thirty-nine per cent) being mountains. About half of the cultivable area is irrigated, while the other half is arid or rainfed. The destruction or deterioration of irrigation infrastructure means that the area under effective irrigation is now substantially lower[66]. The country is suffering its worst drought in thirty years[67]. There is widespread malnutrition (forty-five to sixty per cent prevalence). In its memorandum DFID said that there was no indication of significant famine-related death yet[68], although recent situation reports suggest some famine-related deaths and severe malnutrition have been recorded[69].

44. Around 500,000 of the most needy people are located in the north and centre of the country[70] where this year's harvest provided food for less than three months. Catherine Bertini of the WFP said "In the north, where the people are most at risk, there are people in pre­famine conditions due to the drought, due to the conflict and due to the poverty to begin with"[71]. In other areas that were less affected by the drought, the harvest yielded food for between six and nine months. Although these areas currently do not require the same level of food aid as the severely affected areas, larger numbers of people will become increasingly dependant on food aid early in the new year as their food stocks are depleted[72].

The WFP Regional Emergency Operation

45. As the drought persisted and widespread food shortage became more extreme the WFP accelerated its programmes. These existing programmes were consolidated within a new WFP regional emergency operation (EMOP), 'Emergency Food Assistance to Refugees and Vulnerable Populations in Afghanistan', launched as an integral component of the UN inter-agency Donor Alert. The EMOP was targeted on seven and a half million beneficiaries. It outlined a requirement for 493,801 tonnes of food (a net shipping requirement of 332,914 tonnes once food already in the pipeline or the region had been taken into account). The EMOP covered the same period as the donor alert. Based on the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment and the WFP's own vulnerability data, the WFP estimated that it would need to ship 52,000 tonnes per month from October onwards in the period leading up to winter. This would replenish stocks inside Afghanistan to allow current feeding programmes to continue and build a stockpile for the winter in areas likely to be cut off[73]. This equates to just over 1,700 tonnes per day or 12,000 per week. The target figure was expected to rise as the number of people needing food aid increased (once those with only 0-3 month food deficit needed food aid early in the New Year).


46. There had been a massive increase in the scale of the WFP operation in Afghanistan in the three years before the events of September 11. In 1999-2000 the WFP provided 80,000 tonnes of food to 1.25 million beneficiaries but in 2001-2002 were planning to ship 360,000 tonnes of food and distribute it to 5.5 million beneficiaries. During our visit to Pakistan, the WFP told us it was assisting the following groups inside Afghanistan:

-  Drought affected rural populations
4 to 6 million
-  Drought IDPs (both inside and outside camps
500,000 to 800,000
-  Conflict IDPs
150,000 to 250,000
-  Malnourished vulnerable
-  Urban conflict-affected[74]
2,000,000 then 400,000
-  New conflict IDPs
200,000 to 250,000

47. Before the crisis precipitated by September 11, the World Food Programme was investing in women's bakeries and was working on a range of food aid activities including food-for-work and food-for-education schemes, free distributions of food to drought victims, institutional feeding in hospitals and orphanages, support for IDPs and the assisted return of IDPs to their homes[75].

48. The WFP is now working to replenish stocks inside Afghanistan, support pre-September 11 programmes, pre-position food stocks for any potential refugee flows and feeding of existing refugees in neighbouring countries. During our visit, WFP also outlined the following actions in the immediate future:

  • Continuation of free food distributions to drought affected populations and the extension of the coverage of these food distributions to populations suffering food shortages in January - April 2002 due to drought.
  • Assistance for drought and conflict IDPs
  • Supplementary feeding for the malnourished
  • General post-conflict urban distributions (provide one-off food distributions for those in urban areas affect by conflict)
  • Assisted return of conflict IDPs as soon as possible and drought affected IDPs by March 2002

49. The WFP indicated that it would be directly involved in urban post-conflict reconstruction through food-for-work programmes. It is also working on operations in neighbouring countries like Tajikistan and is appealing for additional funds from donors[76].


50. The WFP is responsible for the distribution of food to vulnerable populations that need it. It often sub-contracts this work to NGOs and local partners who have a greater presence in local communities and are better informed about the specific needs within these communities. Food is shipped from WFP warehouses in neighbouring countries to WFP logistic hubs, which are often located in urban areas (such as Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, Kandahar etc.). This is known as primary distribution. Secondary distribution is the process of distributing food from these warehouses to the NGOs and local partners who will then carry out the actual distribution to the vulnerable populations. Catherine Bertini said "The NGOs are the real champions in this country. It is their national staff who took the food from the WFP warehouses and distributed it. There was food there. That does not mean that the systems were all perfect because a lot of staff - local staff and NGOs and WFP - were not able to work, but to the extent there were people working there was food there to distribute"[77].

51. The logistics of food distribution in Afghanistan are difficult; there are few good paved roads and many roads are impassable in winter. Land mines, cluster bombs and unexploded ordnance hamper distribution and difficult terrain means that every mode of transport available from airlifts to mule caravans has to be used[78]. The WFP has responded well to the logistical challenge and is bringing in additional trucking capacity and a number of 4x4 short-haul five tonne trucks to aid secondary distribution. They have also secured the use of snow ploughs and bulldozers to keep the roads affected by winter open as long as possible. The extra trucking capacity will be primarily deployed in the northern corridor food pipeline.

52. Opportunities for using the northern corridor food pipeline opened up as a result of the rapid advance of the Northern Alliance and the collapse of the Taliban. Food is currently being trans-shipped from Bandar-e Abbas in Iran along the northern corridor to supply Afghanistan from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The northern corridor food pipeline is not yet running smoothly and although some food has arrived in Iran it has yet to reach Afghanistan's northern neighbours. Uzbekistan's closed border policy was hampering efforts to get large quantities of aid across the border at Termez. In the interim, the WFP has maintained shipments from Nasir Bagh depot in Peshawar (while the route though Quetta and Chaman is closed) and is purchasing additional supplies of wheat in Kazakhstan to supplement food already in the northern corridor pipeline. It has made some use of airlifts into Faizabad.

53. Ideally the WFP would like to move sixty per cent of the food requirement into Afghanistan through the northern corridor. But there are logistical difficulties and at the time of writing this report eighty per cent of the food flowing into Afghanistan is coming in from Pakistan. Despite some instability, deliveries are continuing along the Peshawar-Kabul-central highlands route. The route in from Quetta through Chaman and on to Herat is closed temporarily because of security concerns. The WFP is hoping to increase deliveries through the northern corridor pipeline along the following routes:

  • Turkmenabad to Andkhoy and on to the Northwest
  • Turkmenabad to Kushka and on to Herat
  • Termez to Mazar-e Sharif and into the Central Highlands
  • Termez to Kunduz and into the North East
  • Termez to Kunduz and into the Panjshir Valley


54. It was clear that early on in the crisis insufficient food was going into the country. As the coalition's bombardment of the Taliban intensified and the security situation worsened and delivery levels dropped further, a number of the international NGOs began to call for a pause in the bombing. This was an understandable call to make from a humanitarian point of view but the governments involved in the military action had to weigh it against the military consequences. In reality, it was a call for a cessation of hostilities and we agree with the Secretary of State that the call was a mistake. Once the WFP had adapted its procedures[79] the insecurity in the country and not the bombing by coalition forces seemed to be the major barrier to primary and secondary food distribution.


55. When Sakandar Ali gave evidence at the end of October he said the UN needed to develop alternative delivery mechanisms, as international staff were unable to return to the country[80]. The WFP was already adapting its procedures to try to deliver more food into Afghanistan by allowing primary distributions to bypass the main urban logistic hubs and deliver directly to the NGOs and agencies responsible for secondary distribution and distribution to the intended beneficiaries in rural areas. In its memorandum, DFID said that the impact of the renewed focus of getting food into the country was that 27,000 tonnes was despatched in October and that the average daily target of 1,700 tonnes was being exceeded[81]. This was a short-lived improvement as the security situation deteriorated in the face of the Taliban collapse and the advance of the Northern Alliance.


56. There has been a great deal of emphasis on getting food into Afghanistan particularly with the threat of a severe winter, high levels of insecurity and the need to make up for the period of ten days when no food was shipped into the country. Stockpiles in the WFP logistic hubs (see table 7) enabled some secondary distribution and distribution to vulnerable populations to continue even when no food was being moved into Afghanistan.

Opening Stock as of 11 September 2001 (tonnes)
Total Released 11-30 September 2001 (tonnes)
Opening Stock as of 1 Oct 2001
Mazar-e Sharif
Total in Afghanistan

Table 7: WFP stock in Afghan Warehouses and Releases 11-30 September 2001[82].

57. It is one thing to get food into the country, but quite another to distribute that food to the intended beneficiaries. DFID's best assessment was that food, by and large, was reaching those for whom it was intended[83]. In their supplementary memorandum, Christian Aid and Islamic Relief were careful to draw a distinction between delivery and distribution and went on to say that insecurity had a particularly negative impact on distribution. They highlighted the provinces of Ghor and Badghis as being badly affected with little food distribution since September 11. Access in both provinces is badly affected in the winter[84].

58. We have been impressed with the response by the WFP and the flexibility it has shown in the face of difficult circumstances. Clare Short said "¼ the World Food Programme has performed magnificently in some of the most difficult circumstances anyone has seen, in terms of humanitarian crises with military dimensions"[85]. The WFP was unable to deliver food into Afghanistan for ten days in the middle of September; despatches of food from external hubs ceased on September 11 and recommenced on 25 September when warehouses in Kabul, Herat, Andkhoi and Kandahar were resupplied. In Mazar-e Sharif and Faizabad the WFP borrowed food from NGO partners' stocks to continue secondary distributions. During the period when no food was flowing into Afghanistan, NGOs were very critical of the WFP. Although primary distribution has been interrupted on a number of occasions there has only been one WFP warehouse in Afghanistan that has had no food[86] (see table 7). The WFP did acknowledge that there were problems with secondary distribution and distribution to the intended beneficiaries and that the situation was hampered by a lack of staff and poor communications. The WFP has a track record of being able to distribute food in the winter and we believe it will be able to do so in this case. It has an impressive logistics operation that is almost certain to ensure that targets for primary distribution are met. However, we remain to be convinced that the food delivered into Afghanistan can be distributed to all those in need, primarily because of poor security. In their supplementary memorandum, Christian Aid and Islamic Relief pointed out that insecurity was the most critical factor affecting the delivery and distribution of food aid[87]. If the security problems cannot be resolved and food distributed, there may be a need to resort to less successful methods such as airdrops or risk further displacements of population, which in the winter could be catastrophic. It appears that food is counted as being distributed once it is handed over to NGOs for distribution rather than when the NGOs report back that distribution is complete. We believe that food should not be counted as distributed until NGOs and local partners contracted to carry out the distribution have confirmed that the food has been distributed.

59. Christian Aid and Islamic Relief told us they were concerned about the absence of delivery and distribution networks "as an essential component of a comprehensive humanitarian strategy"[88]. Secondary distribution has been the weakness in the current crisis. The security situation and absence of international staff have hampered secondary distribution more than primary distribution. However, we have not seen any evidence to suggest that secondary distribution is being ignored; the WFP has demonstrated a flexible approach by allowing urban logistic hubs to be bypassed and securing additional trucking capacity.

60. Distribution rates improved when the WFP began bypassing urban hubs and delivering directly to rural areas on 20 October[89]. As many rural areas are controlled by only one or other of the warring parties they are often more secure than the towns. Despite this, Christian Aid and Islamic Relief claim that distributions have been relatively more effective in urban areas. The fact that distribution is unverifiable in many rural areas gives rise to continuing humanitarian concern. They also suggested that improvements in liaison between the WFP and the military had helped to reassure lorry drivers about the level of risk they faced from the coalition bombing[90], aiding primary distribution.

Non-food needs

61. It takes a long time for a person to starve to death but in a weakened state and without shelter or adequate bedding, hypothermia can kill in a night. Food is often used as a shorthand by the aid agencies to refer to both food and non-food items. While eighty per cent of the need for shelter, blankets and warm clothing is being met[91], there is a need to ensure that other non-food needs are properly addressed. Only forty per cent of the immediate health needs had been met at the time DFID submitted their memorandum to the Committee[92]. Much of the planning was based on figures that had not taken into account the numbers of people displaced as a result of the conflict. There is still some evidence to suggest that people are dying from a lack of shelter[93] and steps need to be taken urgently to ensure that non-food items are distributed to those in need.

Figure 3: Primary and Secondary Distribution in Afghanistan[94].


62. Much of the food available to the WFP for Afghanistan has come from the USA (about sixty-five per cent[95]), which makes the bulk of its donations in kind. There is a surplus of wheat available in the region, particularly within Iran, India and Pakistan. Pakistan has made available 350,000 tonnes to the WFP as a loan of which the WFP has taken up 115,000 tonnes. The WFP also purchased 23,000 tonnes of wheat in Pakistan and 34,000 tonnes for the northern corridor food pipeline in Kazakhstan. India has pledged one million tonnes of wheat over five years. The in-kind donation from the USA removes the need to buy locally - something the WFP would prefer to do. Local purchasing would help to stimulate local economies and the food could probably be made available earlier than food being shipped from the USA. In relation to Afghanistan it also appears to provide better value for money. DFID's cash contribution to WFP has been used to buy wheat in Pakistan for US$130 a tonne. Armand Doli, the WFP's logistics manager, told us in Islamabad that the shipping costs from the USA (which the United States Government pays in addition to purchasing food in the United States) are about US$110 per tonne on US flagged vessels or US$50 per tonne on other ships. Bulk food purchases have to be carefully managed; there is a danger that large local purchases could distort markets[96]. We believe that donors should be working to allow the WFP to make greater use of local purchases by giving cash rather than in-kind contributions. This should not be an inflexible rule and there may well be times when the in-kind contributions are needed, but greater flexibility in the way donors respond would be welcome. DFID should continue making cash contributions wherever possible. Such a policy will maximise the value for money of the UK's contribution by providing the greatest utility to the aid agencies. We welcome Clare Short's comments that "There were distortions in food aid because a lot of countries are offloading their surplus foods. The UK gives money to buy in the region, which also helps the region and means you buy more appropriate food, the food that people are used to. Other countries send ship loads of food and often it is not the food that people want. When I visited the refugees from Sierra Leone in Guinea they had bulgar wheat or something and they are rice eaters. You have lost everything and then someone gives you some food you have never known, you do not know how to cook. That goes on in the international system and that is a problem. We need to untie international food aid, which is one of our objectives for better quality aid"[97].


63. The drought has had an impact on the whole region, notably Balochistan in Pakistan, Sistan Baluchistan in Iran and Tajikistan. Tajikistan faces a severe food crisis of its own as a result of the drought. Cereal production in 2000 was down by forty-six per cent compared to 1999 and will be sufficient to meet the national requirements for only three months. There is a risk that if food aid is not provided there could be widespread migration and even renewed conflict in a country still recovering from a five­year civil war. The WFP has launched an emergency operation to provide 126,000 tonnes of food to cover the nine months shortfall for up to 1.16 million people. The total cost of this operation is US$62 million and is now nearly fully funded[98].


64. The US military is thought to have spent some $46 million on dropping over two million humanitarian daily ration packs by air[99]. At best this was a waste of resources and at worst it was dangerous. Little control can be had over where the food ends up, whether in a minefield or in the wrong hands; ration packs can only be collected by the fittest and are likely to be taken by the strongest not the needy. There have been reports of children straying into minefields to collect the parcels. The food itself is of little use unless the recipient knows how to use it - and the written instructions the packs carry are of limited use in a country where sixty-four per cent of the population is illiterate. We agree with Christian Aid and Islamic Relief that dropping these packs diverted attention from the co-ordinated humanitarian strategy[100]. We see little point in this exercise even as a hearts and minds strategy; most of the food aid in Afghanistan is from the USA and clearly marked as such. We believe that the money spent on dropping humanitarian daily rations would have been better spent through the co-ordinated donor response.

64  Special alert, no. 315, FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Afghanistan, 7 June 2001 Back

65  Special alert, no. 315, FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Afghanistan, 7 June 2001 Back

66  Special alert, no. 315, FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Afghanistan, 7 June 2001 Back

67  Ev 42, [Para 2 and 3] Back

68  Ev 115, [Para 18] Back

69  DFID Afghanistan Crisis Situation Report, 25 November 2001 Back

70  Ev 115, [Para 18] Back

71  Q179 Back

72  DFID included a WFP map in their evidence, (see Vol II Ev 122, [Annex D]) showing levels of food insecurity in September 2001 across Afghanistan based on survey data from their Vulnerability and Mapping Unit (VAM). Back

73  In his evidence, Sakandar Ali presented a map (Q82) showing immediate food aid in priority food insecure districts based on WFP VAM data but also including details of areas likely to be cut off in the winter. See foldout map on inside front cover of Volume II Back

74  After a one-off food distribution 400,000 will require ongoing support Back

75  Ev 85 Back

76  Ev 86 Back

77  Q134 Back

78  Ev 86 Back

79  See paragraph 53 Back

80  Q102 Back

81  Ev 115, [Para 19] Back

82  Ev 103-4 Back

83  Ev 115, [Para 20] Back

84  Ev 49 Back

85  Q190 Back

86  Q134 and Q146 Back

87  Ev 49 Back

88  Ev 21, [Para 10] Back

89  Ev 50 Back

90  Ev 51 Back

91  Ev 115, [Para 21] Back

92  Ev 115, [Para 22] Back

93  Médecins Sans Frontiers, Press Briefing, Afghanistan, 5 December 2001. Back

94  Figures sourced from DFID Situation Reports of 5 and 7 December Back

95  Q181 Back

96  Q86 and Q87 Back

97  Q226 Back

98  WFP Tajikistan EMOP 6288.00 Back

99  USAID Central Asia Region, Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #32 Dec 3, 2001 Back

100  Ev 21, [Para 8] Back

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