Looming Afghan famine potentially jeopardises NATO efforts

RUSI Briefing Note

A third of Afghans (8.4m) are suffering from food insecurity, and are facing a famine this coming winter; whatever the effect of insurgent violence on the mission in Afghanistan this predictable humanitarian disaster will place a greater obstacle to ISAF’s success, a leading defence and security think-tank warns .

C130 landing Afghanistan

A briefing note from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) challenges the will of the international community and calls for nations across the world to mount an intensive air operation in Afghanistan to deliver life-saving aid similar to the Berlin Airlift sixty years ago.

A combination of light spring rain, a summer drought, poor irrigation, low crop yields and rising global food prices have created the conditions for a ‘calamitous’ famine in Afghanistan this coming winter. RUSI warns ‘if the international community is found wanting, we can expect increasing frustration and anger from a population which once saw international intervention as a source of hope’.

‘To maintain its credibility and moral authority to act in Afghanistan the international community must take timely, concerted and effective action’, writes Paul Smyth, Head of Operational Studies at RUSI.

‘Afghanistan may be on the brink of a calamity which has the potential to undermine much of the progress which has been achieved there, especially in areas ostensibly free of insurgent activity.’

The briefing note also outlines the fact that many areas vulnerable to famine have reduced or rejected controversial poppy farming; an added irony to this potential humanitarian disaster that seriously jeopardises efforts to create sustainable progress in Afghanistan.

In August 2008, the UN World Food programme estimated Afghanistan has an emergency need for 25,000 tonnes of mixed commodities before the coming winter, and a requirement for an additional 70,000 tonnes before February 2009.

Drawing comparisons with the Berlin Airlift, which brought food to millions and prevented a strategic defeat during the early Cold War, Smyth suggests a much smaller, yet ‘strategically significant operation’ could have similar effect in Afghanistan.

‘The added significance of acting decisively in Afghanistan is that for all the focus on insurgency, a more serious blow will be dealt to the Afghan government and the UN/ISAF mission if the international community does not prevent a predictable humanitarian disaster’ RUSI warns.

The RUSI briefing note follows questions about the limits of NATO’s mission and recent attacks on Afghan aid workers. On Tuesday General Sir Michael Rose, writing in the RUSI Journal, warned that security gains in Afghanistan will not endure without greater numbers of soldiers, good governance and swift reconstruction. General Rose also noted there was "a race against time" between the Afghan Government and the Taliban to win the support of the vast bulk of ordinary Afghans who have not taken sides.

To read the briefing note in full, please click here.

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