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The day it 'rained food'

Some Afghans thankful for humanitarian rations dropped by U.S. forces

Children collect some of the 800,000 ration packages dropped into Afghanistan.  

KHOJA BAHAUDDIN, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Along with its bombing campaign, the U.S. military is flying daily humanitarian relief missions, dropping food rations the people of drought-ravaged Afghanistan.

So far, the U.S. has dropped more than 800,000 of the humanitarian rations from C-17 transport aircraft. On Tuesday, the village of Khoja Bahauddin in northern Afghanistan was one of the recipients of an air drop.

Terrified villagers said they ran out of their mud huts when they heard loud thumps on their roofs.

"We all woke up at two in the morning and thought we were being bombed," said Sharaf Ullah. "But when we looked around we found packets of food.''

Five packets landed in Ullah's backyard.

"My wife rushed out and suddenly this package dropped a meter away from her," he said. "She got so frightened she's ill now.''

2,200 calories per ration

Humanitarian daily ration
Each yellow plastic container of "humanitarian daily rations" is about the size of a hardcover book. The pouches, airdropped by the U.S. military to assist Afghan civilians, contains a day's worth of food for one person. The rations comply to Muslim dietary laws. A typical 2,200-calorie package may contain the following items:
  • Bean salad
  • Rice and beans
  • Crackers
  • Peanut butter
  • Raisins
  • Flat bread
  • Strawberry jam
  • Apple fruit bar
  • Utensils package

  • Sources: Defense Supply Center and the Associated Press

    For Sharaf Ullah, who is unsure if he will ever find work in this war-ravaged nation, the air drops mean his children had food. They ate raisins, peanut butter and crackers, a rare and sumptuous treat in one of the world's poorest countries. Afghanistan also has been suffering from drought and famine in the past few years.

    The humanitarian daily ration grew out of U.S. experiences in providing aid to Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq following the Persian Gulf War. Many military rations contained products such as pork, which Muslims would not eat.

    So in 1993, the Pentagon developed the humanitarian daily ration. Each ration provides 2,200 calories and is designed to feed and sustain moderately malnourished people until more traditional feeding methods are restored.

    Each packet contains ready-to-eat foods, including two main vegetarian meals based heavily on lentils, beans and rice, and complementary items like bread, a fruit bar, a fortified biscuit, peanut butter and spices. The packets include illustrations depicting how to eat the foods.

    The rations are packaged in bright yellow containers and are marked "A Food Gift From the People of the United States of America." When dropped from the air, the rations float down to the ground without a parachute.

    On October 4, U.S. President George Bush pledged another $320 million for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. The money will go toward food, medicine, blankets and shelter as winter approaches.

    Rations are being sold

    Some rations are being sold in makeshift markets.  

    In Khoja Bahauddin, hundreds of the packages rained down on the village. Some are now being openly sold at makeshift shops. Each costs about 40 cents for those who can afford it.

    Some people, like refugees from Taliban-controlled areas, can only watch as others eat. Khoja Bahauddi is in an area controlled by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

    "I can't understand why the U.S. drops food from the skies in the middle of the night. It should be distributed properly,'' said Mohammed Sarwar.

    This latest U.S. food drop comes just one day after anti-Taliban leaders expressed concern at the rising number of civilian casualties in the ongoing U.S. bombing campaign.

    But residents here just want to thank the American people for their generosity.

    In Northeastern Afghanistan, where thousands routinely go hungry, no one appears concerned about the recent claim by the Pentagon that the Taliban might try to poison U.S. food aid.

    The Taliban have dismissed the U.S. claims as "propaganda.'' Unaware of this controversy, Sharaf Ullah and his family have already finished all the rice and cooked lentils in their packages.

    They say they will never forget the day when "it rained food."

    -- CNN New Delhi bureau chief Satinder Bindra contributed to this report.


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