GENEVA - Two to three million people across Afghanistan are likely to need extra food aid from September following drought and a poor wheat harvest this year, the United Nations food agency said on Wednesday. But Bradley Guerrant, the World Food Program's deputy director for the country, told a news conference WFP's Afghan operations were facing a shortfall of almost 50 percent in donor funding for 2011 and it had already had to scale back.
"Afghanistan is already one of the poorest and most food insecure countries in the world. Food insecurity affects 7.3 million people or 31 percent of the population," he said.
These are the people WFP helps in normal times, but the low winter and spring rainfalls, especially hitting pastoralist herders and subsistence farmers in the centre and north of the country, was adding to the numbers this year.
Afghan government officials were saying the wheat crop would be 28 percent -- or 1.9 million metric tons -- down on the 2010 yield. Although government reserves and private sector imports would cover much of the gap, shortages would still be serious.
"We estimate that 2 to 3 million people will likely require food assistance, starting in the early autumn," Guerrant added.
In total, about 300,000 tons of wheat would be needed.
But although WFP had a budget of $400 million (250 million pounds) annually from 2009-2011 for Afghanistan, so far this year it has received only $198 million from international donors among whom the United States was by far the largest, said Guerrant.
Overall budget cuts had affected United States aid funding around the globe, he said, but WFP had so far this year received only $110 million from Washington for its Afghan program compared with $365 million in 2009.
Afghanistan has been the scene of increasingly fierce fighting and violence since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to drive al-Qaeda from its bases there and put an end to the rule of the strongly Islamic Taliban.
A suicide attack in Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, killed five French soldiers and seriously wounded four others on Wednesday, the French president's office said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai buried his assassinated brother on Wednesday then swiftly gave another brother a key role opened by the killing, in what could be a bid to stave off political infighting in the volatile south. (Reuters)