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Starvation Alert, Our Chance to Show Afghans We Are for Real

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opednews.com Headlined to H3 12/24/09

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This time of year is always bad in Afghanistan. It's when the passes get snowed in and people starve. Rapidly.

This is in contrast to the norm. According to the UN, 35% of Afghans do not meet the daily caloric intake requirement required to avoid malnutrition. Translation: this many Afghans are pretty much starving slowly. This could help account for the average lifespan, the shortest in the world, of 43. We're talking about a speed-up in the aging process, which, combined with unimaginable cold at these mountain altitudes, makes people drop like flies. Especially children. It happened in Samangan in 2008, in Tulak in 2005, and many other provinces where the world's fourth-poorest people expire without note by the wider world.

It is disgusting that our government would rather talk about "offensive military operations" than this. But then, people might catch on to why there is an insurgency, fix it, and their nice little war would be over.

At a UN press conference this week it was revealed that it is in danger of happening again, this time in the southern and south-east provinces. Twenty percent of food aid has not reached its target. The financial shortage amounts to about US$ 870 million - what we spend on military operations in 2 weeks. This is the time we can show Afghans we are for real, and will never let another single child starve and freeze if we can help it. Congress must pass emergency legislation as fast as it passed the legislation funding bullets and bombs. Otherwise we are damned and deserve it.

The UN office, with knowledge of the specific valleys and villages at risk will be put into contact with the following congressional offices, selected for appropriations powers, foreign policy seats, or other factors. We can never now say that the world did not know. OCHA, the humanitarian relief arm of the UN, estimates that on non-food assistance, i.e. things like blankets, tents, and first aid kits, "We're about 3,800 kits short of what we anticipate we need."

Security is an issue when considering overland travel in some areas, and so are impassable roads. But in the winter, fighting always slows down as snows arrive, and travel grinds down to only the most necessary. In 2005 in Taluk, the problem was, too-little, too-late. The food and supplies should be immediately airdropped. For once, the food should arrive before people begin to starve, before a blizzard sets in which prevents flying. In the above-linked report on Tulak:

Some private aid workers privately have expressed frustration at the slow response to what they believe would have been an avoidable situation if the airlifted food had been made available earlier.

In addition, our demand to congressmen will include the passage of the kind of civilian aid package for the entire country which would make a difference, which would amount to about what we spend in one month on combat operations. The mechanism would be the National Solidarity Program run by Afghan community development councils (more than 22,000 at the local level) and the World Bank. World Bank President Richard Zoellick said:

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"The National Solidarity Program...empowers more than 22,000 elected, village-level councils to decide on their development priorities -- from building a school to irrigation to electrification. So far, the program has reached more than 19 million Afghans in 34 provinces, with grants averaging $33,000. Development owned by the community can survive amid conflict: When an NSP-funded school was attacked in August 2006, the villagers defended it."

It's time to start anew with Afghans. The Berlin Airlift in 1948 saved hundreds of thousands of Germans from freezing and starvation. Of course there was a political element, as two superpowers, the US and the USSR, jockeyed to shape the map after WWII. But it worked, and the fact remains that, decades later, this is still what many Europeans remember about America. Let the help in the winter of 2010 be what many young Afghans years from now remember about America, not a surge in troops.

Listed below are the congressmembers' foreign policy staffers who have received this letter, with a request that they forward it to their members, in their email in-box this morning. Please call to reiterate the importance of acting on this immediately. The subject line reads: "Emergency Legislation: Stop Starvation in Afghanistan This Winter Now." Let's get into the real American Christmas spirit, and show that the generals do not represent all of us.

Dear Congress Member,

We at Jobs for Afghans demand that a likely food crisis looming in parts of Afghanistan this winter be averted. If the Congress can pass $100 billion package for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it can pass a $870 million emergency assistance package to head off starvation.

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The person to initiate contact with at the UN Assistance Mission in Kabul in order to coordinate accounts toward which the funding should go is:

Dominic Medley
Tel: 93 0790 00 6292; 39 0831 24 6292; 1 212 963 2668 ext: 6292
Email: medleyd-AT-un.org

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Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He writes for Truth Out, Alternet, Consortium News, Op-Ed News, and other Internet media. He reported from Afghanistan in 2009 and produced a short documentary film on the (more...)

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