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A Starving Nation

A Starving NationWorsening drought in Afghanistan is causing a wide-spread humanitarian disaster, according to a new Tufts report commissioned by the federal government.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.23.02] While the ongoing war in Afghanistan has received extensive media attention, the worsening drought that continues to cause a humanitarian disaster has largely gone unnoticed within the international community. But a new Tufts report -- cited as the most comprehensive of its kind -- reveals startling details about the extent of the social and economic havoc plaguing the war-torn nation.

"Drought and a lack of adequate food have led to an economic and social disaster in Afghanistan, where some girls as young as seven are sold into marriage so their families can afford to eat, according to a [Tufts University] famine expert," reported the Associated Press.

According to Sue Lautze -- the director of the Livelihoods Initiative Program at Tufts' Feinstein International Famine Center -- the availability of secure sources of food and water, which indicate vulnerability to famine, has plummeted since 1999.

"The percentage of households with a secure food source fell from 59 percent to 9 percent, while the number with a secure water source fell from 43 percent to 15 percent," reported the international news service.

Using interviews with over 1,100 households across Afghanistan, Lautze and her team compiled the most comprehensive look to date of conditions in the country.

"They were coping with the war, they were coping with the Taliban," Lautze told the Associated Press. "But this drought has really been hard."

The Tufts expert -- who briefed the State Department, Defense Department, National Security Council and the United Nations on her findings -- says the country isn't ready for its reconstruction phase, as many had previously thought.

Widespread humanitarian aid must come first.

"We went into this thinking maybe this country was going into a reconstruction phase, when in fact it's still in acute disaster phase," Lautze said in the Associated Press report, which was carried in newspapers across the country.

The United States has already spent $230 million on assistance to Afghanistan, but additional resources will be necessary to help the country rebound.

"Lautze's report recommends that USAID, one of numerous government and private organizations working in Afghanistan, focus on reviving a cash economy, replenishing livestock and supporting only agricultural projects with a demonstrated positive net health effect on the poor," reported the Associated Press.

The Tufts expert added that any aid to the country's agricultural system must be effective in severe drought conditions.

"For instance, Lautze has pointed out there is little point in delivering seeds to farmers unless there is water," reported the news service.

While the picture is generally grim, Lautze pointed out that aid efforts have not been without their successes.

Lautze told the Associated Press that the World Food Program has been able to provide at least some food assistance through the delivery of 350,000 tons of food.

"The fact that they got food aid into 60 percent of the households in the middle of a war -- these are not small accomplishments," she said.

But the country still has a long way to go.

"LaE-news Management Console : E-News Story - Add From Archivesutze has urged government and relief agencies to encourage broadcasters not to paint too optimistic a picture of life in Afghanistan, saying such reports are encouraging refugees to return to the country before they can be supported," reported the Associated Press.

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