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Afghanistan: No. 1 need is food

By Edward GirardetSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 28, 1984



As the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan enters its sixth year, resistance fighters realize more so than before that they are in for a long struggle. For some time now, guerrilla commanders and Western observers have warned that drastic action is needed to help the civilians. If Moscow continues its policy of killing the Afghan people or forcing them out of the country, the resistance could well be brought to its knees over the next two or three years. Among the most immediate needs is a large-scale emergency relief program for the interior. Earlier this month five Paris-based voluntary aid groups (Aide Medicale Internationale, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Medecins du Monde, Guilde Europeene du Raid, and Afrane), in cooperation with American and European Afghan support groups, appealed for an initial $3 million to launch such an effort.

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Based on reliable reports brought back by relief workers, doctors, and journalists from different parts of Afghanistan, the French agencies maintain that no fewer than 12 out of Afghanistan's 28 provinces are threatened by famine. An estimated half million Afghans, they say, are in danger of starving this winter.

While United Nations and other aid organizations provide aid to refugees in Pakistan, little outside help has gone to the 7 to 8 million people believed to be living in Afghanistan's resistance-dominated regions.

It is only over the past 12 months that the governments of France, Britain, Sweden, the United States, and other countries have begun to take effective steps toward alleviating the plight of those Afghans. For diplomatic reasons these governments prefer to operate through voluntary relief agencies.

The main reasons behind the threat of famine are:

* An intensification in 1984 of Soviet ground operations and aerial bombardments against prominent resistance regions, notably Herat, Kandahar, the Panjshair Valley, and the provinces surrounding Kabul, the capital. Areas near strategic highways and government bases have also suffered badly.

* The exodus of farmers from the countryside, which has caused growing food shortages. The abandonment of entire villages leaving no one to cultivate the fields or maintain fragile irrigation systems has already caused serious deterioration of agricultural infrastructures that may take years to rectify.

* Lack of rain in many areas, with drought conditions prevailing in western Afghanistan.

Although some areas remain virtually untouched by war, almost everyone in the country is vulnerable to Soviet attack or various economic and political pressures aimed at breaking resistance resolve.

''For the past five years, we have witnessed the steady depopulation of a country that is being laid waste by a brutal occupation army,'' said a spokesman for the Guilde Europeene du Raid. ''If we do not help now, then we might as well sit back and watch one of the most repressive moral and physical annihilations of a people since the Second World War.''