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USAID says Afghan food effort averts famine

Thousands of Afghans have fled their country because of drought and war.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After months of dire predictions, the international community has delivered enough food and supplies to Afghanistan to avoid a disastrous winter, a U.S. government official said Thursday.

"We have averted widespread famine in Afghanistan," said Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID.

Over the last four months, the World Food Programme delivered 210,572 metric tons of food -- 64 percent of which came from the United States -- to Afghanistan, according to Natsios.

More than half that aid -- some 116,000 tons -- arrived in December, more than twice the amount delivered the previous month.

The increased shipments followed significant, rapid progress by U.S.-backed forces in Afghanistan, which paved the way for ground shipments and the safe delivery of planeloads of aid.

Natsios said that every region of the war-torn Central Asian country now has food aid and the means to disperse it to thousands of people.

Afghan aid workers played a vital role in the apparent success of the international aid program, Natsios said.

"The people who saved Afghanistan were the Afghans themselves," he said.

A senior State Department official said that last fall's projection that as many as 1.5 million Afghan refugees might flee to neighboring countries was way off the mark.

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Only 150,000 refugees have fled Afghanistan to neighboring countries since September 11, said Alan Kreczko, acting assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

While the United States does not expect a "large scale" return of refugees until the weather improves next spring, Kreczko said 60,000-80,000 refugees have returned home in the past two months.

Meanwhile, the Voice of America and USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives will distribute more than 30,000 radios to Afghans to expedite the distribution of information.

More than 20,000 radios, equipped with battery sets, have already been given out in Herat, Kunduz, Taloquan, Andkhoi and the Faryab region, according to USAID.

Afghan correspondents on the ground began providing public service announcements over the radio last month in the local Pashtu and Dari dialects.

The broadcasts offered public health advisories and information on food rations, the political, military and humanitarian situation in specific villages and the general security situation.


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