UN food agency steps up airdrops to Afghans isolated by winter snows

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is stepping up airdrops in Afghanistan in collaboration with the Government and the United States-led coalition in an effort to reach tens of thousands of people isolated by snow in the harshest winter in many years in the mountainous central Asian country.Yesterday, 20 tons of food were dropped and there was to be another airdrop today, WFP spokesman Simon Pluess told a news briefing in Geneva.“The situation is particularly worrying in central Ghor and southern Zabul provinces, where food is being delivered to 50,000 of the most affected people,” WFP country representative Charles Vincent said yesterday in Kabul, the Afghan capital. “People in affected areas urgently need medicine, blankets and food.”Access has been the main problem over the past few weeks, Mr. Pluess said, but WFP managed to reach one of the worst-affected areas by road yesterday and had delivered 25 tons of food. Distribution started today to help some 4,000 people in urgent need.According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), more than 210 persons have died from the cold, mostly children. WFP, like other agencies, is very aware of the high risks of flooding once the snow thaws and it has already pre-positioned food in critical areas, Mr. Pluess said.Neighbouring Pakistan has also been affected by the harsh weather. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the death toll there stood at 486 people and many villages remained cut off by avalanches and landslides.Some 140,000 persons remained isolated in the north of Pakistan and many roads were closed, OCHA spokesperson Elizabeth Byrs added.The Government had not asked for international aid, but welcomed bilateral and multilateral aid which was coming in. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Pakistan Red Crescent Society have dispatched four trucks of relief items to the districts of Battagram and Shangla in the North West Frontier Province.

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