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Afghanistan, UN Launch New Appeal to Help Fight Looming Food Crisis

Afghanistan is seeking nearly $80 million to help fight "an imminent food crisis" caused by widespread drought. The aid appeal, issued with the United Nations, says more than two and a half million people could be affected by the drought and crop failures.

The Afghan government and United Nations kicked off the $76 million appeal Tuesday morning in Kabul.

The U.N.'s deputy special representative to Afghanistan, Christopher Alexander, said that millions of farmers throughout Afghanistan are facing a large shortfall in their wheat harvest due to the drought.

"It's not just a question of lack of rain," he said. "It's a question of livelihoods being in jeopardy. So this is a human crisis, these are real, acute, basic needs that need to be addressed."

Droughts are common in Afghanistan but Alexander says this year it is particularly harsh.

According to U.N. figures, wheat production has dropped nearly 15 percent in the past 12 months. The country faces a shortfall of 700,000 tons of wheat.

Hardest hit are Afghanistan's northern provinces, which have largely been spared the political unrest plaguing the south.

Relief agencies in the north say the drought is already forcing thousands of farmers to sell their livestock to help feed their families.

Eric Toft, director of the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees, says the drought could force thousands of families to give up farming and move to Afghanistan's overcrowded cities in search of work.

If the U.N. appeal fails, he says, over the long-term the drought could have political and security consequences.

"The international community and the government need the support of the people in the north," noted Toft. "So far they have been mainly positive toward the government but if we are not able to help then in a situation like this that support might decrease."

And, he says, that without that support, political instability would likely rise.

Afghan officials also warn the drought could lead poor farmers to grow more opium, which requires less water than wheat and other legal crops.