6 March 2008The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing emergency assistance to Afghans suffering from food shortages due to the surge in the price of wheat, which has risen by 70 per cent over the past year. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing emergency assistance to Afghans suffering from food shortages due to the surge in the price of wheat, which has risen by 70 per cent over the past year. “Between now and mid-year, WFP aims to reach 2.5 million people in both urban and rural areas of Afghanistan,” said WFP Country Director Rick Corsino. The agency will begin distributions this week, including wheat to 650,000 people in and around the capital, Kabul. The UN and the Afghan Government joined forces in January to appeal for more than $80 million to help those affected by the rise in food prices. So far WFP has received pledges for two-thirds of the $77 million it requested as part of the joint appeal to deliver 89,000 tons of food to the poorest Afghans. The 89,000 tons of food requested in the appeal is on top of the 180,000 tons that WFP plans to distribute this year for nearly 3.7 million people recovering from war, civil unrest and recurring natural disasters. “We must take immediate action to reduce the impact of soaring food prices on poor people in Afghanistan,” Mr. Corsino said. “Distributions will be completed before the main mid-year wheat harvest as we do not want this additional food to discourage Afghan farmers from growing wheat for domestic markets and needs.” The global surge in food prices – up 40 per cent since last June – has also impacted WFP, which says the cost of projects already approved for 2008 has risen by $500 million to reach a total of $3.4 billion. In response, WFP has increased local purchases and is asking international donors for more contributions, to make up for its sharp decline in purchasing power. The agency has also set up an internal task force at its Rome headquarters and is reviewing ways to better target its assistance. At the global level, WFP plans to launch a series of consultations with leading experts in the field of hunger and food security, and has called for a special meeting with key non-governmental organization (NGO) partners to tackle the issue.