KUNDUZ -- More than 1,500 metric tonnes of food items have arrived from Tajikistan, and the process of distributing food to 7,000 needy families has started, according to officials from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Badakhshan province.
The food aid -- which includes flour, oil, chickpeas and salt -- arrived December 2 and will be distributed in the five bordering districts of Khwahan, Kufab, Shoki, Nusi and Mahimai, said Hayatullah Rasuli, director of the WFP in Badakhshan province.
"After two months of talks with Tajikistan, we were able to buy food and bring it to the bordering districts of Badakhshan through Darwaz district, which shares a border with Tajikistan," he said.
Although the road is closed to traffic, it was temporarily opened to allow vehicles carrying the food that will be distributed to families facing a catastrophic famine this winter, Rasuli said.
The WFP is distributing 46kg of flour, 8.5kg of chickpeas, 4.5kg of oil and 1kg of salt monthly to each needy family for four consecutive months.
In addition to the latest aid delivery, the WFP distributed 12,000 metric tonnes of food to poor and needy families in Badakhshan and parts of Takhar province last month and will continue this process throughout the winter, Rasuli said.
There are also plans to distribute aid to three other remote districts -- Ishkashim, Wakhan and Sheghnan -- and the needs of these families will be addressed soon, he said.
Badakhshan, situated in the northeastern part of the country, is considered one of the coldest provinces, and most of the border areas are now covered with snow.
Unemployment, drought and war have exacerbated the effects of poverty in the province, and impending road closures during the winter are a major concern.
Khal Mirza, 43, a resident of Khawan district, said he is happy about the arriving aid because his family is able to eat only twice a day.
However, aid agencies should help inhabitants while the roads are still open; otherwise, poverty and famine in the coming winter will threaten the lives of the residents in the remote districts, Mirza said.
Every year, residents of the remote districts of Badakhshan prepare for the winter, the inevitable road closures and potential avalanches and other natural disasters by stocking up on food and supplies.
"We made preparations every year to deal with possible disasters," said Abdul Raqib Khawari, a civil society activist in Badakhshan province.
"It is important to store food in remote and vulnerable districts to provide support to the affected people in case of any natural disaster," he said.
But because of the circumstances this year, residents are unprepared.
"The challenge for residents of remote districts is not only the increase in food prices but also the threat of famine and lack of access to food in winter," he said.
Food, medicine shortages
Every year, with the arrival of winter, roads in remote districts are closed, food prices rise, and residents' access to healthcare and medical centres becomes limited, said Abdullah Hakimi, a civil society activist in the province.
"Unfortunately, our people are very poor, which was further affected by the recent developments in the country," he said. "Aid agencies should rush to provide support."
Because of snowfall, remote and bordering districts of Badakhshan do not have access to roads for months every year, causing severe food shortages for residents, said Khosrow Raghi, a member of the Badakhshan Development Council.
Most of the access points to these districts are very challenging and only animals can pass, he said, but even the animals cannot proceed once it snows.
"Years ago, there was a joint market in Badakhshan [between] Afghanistan and Tajikistan, where residents of bordering districts would obtain basic materials in the winter, but now the gates of this joint market are closed to the public," he said.