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WFP increases food rations ahead of bitter winter

This story was taken from the website of the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

WFP has announced that it is increasing food rations to help those affected by the South Asian earthquake to survive the bitter winter months.

“The rates will increase next month from 75 kilograms of wheat flour per family per month to 100 kilograms,” Kyaw Oo Maung, a WFP programme officer, said in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

“Food was not a priority at first; it was shelter, blankets and medical care. But now it’s becoming more of a priority. We’re going to have to use whatever available assets we have,” said Tony Freeman, WFP logistics officer.

Many areas inaccessible

The situation is very bad. Almost everyone is hungry and there is no network of roads or communications. All the shops and bazaars have collapsed and people need food and shelter
Kyaw Oo Maung, WFP programme officer
Snowfall in the region means that many areas are inaccessible by road from December to March. To ensure that local communities have access to food stocks, the Pakistani government usually stocks essential supplies in food stores around the region.

But with roads to many areas cut off by landslides, the supplies have been considerably delayed. The Pakistani military announced it had resumed such operations but it was only a matter of weeks before the roads would be cut off by heavy snow.

“The situation is very bad. Almost everyone is hungry and there is no network of roads or communications. All the shops and bazaars have collapsed and people need food and shelter,” said Maung.

Lack of a harvest

Another vital source of food for villagers has also been disrupted.

“People in the Jeelum and Neelum valleys harvest wheat and maize. The problems is that they should have been harvesting right now, but of course they haven’t, so they don’t have the winter food supplies that they should have had,” explained Freeman.

Distribution points

Households are being given ration cards and WFP has set up 119 strategically placed distribution points throughout the district of Muzaffarabad where survivors will get wheat flour, pulses, vegetable oil and salt, which is distributed by local non-governmental organisations.

WFP has also been distributing dates and high-energy biscuits.

“We’re distributing food to 85,000 people from this warehouse and distribution points are never more than four hours’ walk away from a surrounding village, and in reality it’s never more than two hours,” said Attique Rahman, a delivery operation coordinator for the National Rural Support Programme, a WFP implementing partner which works in 32 districts in Pakistan.

Eating less

We feel hungry but we’ve got used to eating less
Farida Abdulrahim, earthquake survivor
Farida Abdulrahim walked one hour from her village in the mountains overlooking the city of Muzaffarabad to reach the Lohar Goli distribution point perched high in the mountains. Her husband waits in a queue with about 50 other men to receive his family’s rations.

“We feel hungry but we’ve got used to eating less,” said Farida, whose house collapsed in the earthquake. Farida has not received a tent and she sleeps outside with her husband and two children.

“Since the earthquake, we’ve relied on handouts in the streets. But this is better,” she said.

Management committee

Each distribution point has a management committee on hand, which comprises of two male and two females from the area.

Primary school teacher Rubina Kureshi is on the food management committee at the Lohar Goli distribution point. Her school was destroyed by the earthquake but she wanted to be involved in helping her community. Rubina says that her presence is vital if the needs of women are to be met.

“Women here can’t talk to men,” she said. “They are more vulnerable and they are often coping on their own, as their husbands are out finding relatives, food, and shelter. Their basic needs are not being met.”

Monthly distributions

WFP will distribute food on a monthly basis to 290,000 people and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will distribute food to a further 30,000 families.

WFP is distributing food by road and by air, as well as mules to areas which remain inaccessible.

More funding needed

It’s certainly no secret that funding is not to a level we requested. That’s going to have an effect as no money means no flights. Of course we’re worried, it’s a real danger
Tony Freeman, WFP logistics officer
But more funding is needed to continue the food programme especially if remote villages are to be reached by helicopter.

“It’s certainly no secret that funding is not to a level we requested. That’s going to have an effect as no money means no flights. Of course we’re worried, it’s a real danger,” said Freeman.

According to the latest figures, the 8 October earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale killed more than 86,000 people in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, injured over 100,000, and left some 3 million people homeless.