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A Win Over Famine Too

January 06, 2002

The wells ran dry and the sheep died. Dust storms obliterated the sun. Afghanistan's worst drought in 30 years threatened to become wide-scale famine and kill hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who somehow had been spared by the civil war that raged for two decades. Then came Sept. 11, and the world was forced to remember Afghanistan.

In the American-led campaign against the Al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban protectors, most planes dropped bombs but some dropped food packets. The provisions kicked out of the belly of a cargo plane did not help great numbers of people, but the airdrops were an important symbol of the knowledge that military measures had to be supplemented by humanitarian assistance.

With the Taliban on the run, donor nations previously hesitant about aiding a repressive regime opened up their checkbooks to relief organizations. The result was good news from Afghanistan: A widely expected famine has been averted.

Last week State Department officials said more than 200,000 tons of food had been trucked into Afghanistan since September. The U.N. World Food Program said it brought in record amounts of food in the final months of last year, using 200 to 300 trucks each day to cross Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan, Iran and other countries. The agency delivered the food to distribution points, and an assortment of relief agencies relayed it onward, using everything from trucks to donkeys.

Private armies that still plague Afghanistan have stolen some food, and there are areas too dangerous or remote for relief agencies to reach. But this is a glass well over half full. The United States, the largest supplier of food to Afghanistan for years before Sept. 11 and the provider of well over half the aid since then, deserves credit for demonstrating its intention of destroying Al Qaeda but helping the Afghan people. The do-good instincts of the American people come from more than warm hearts. As the enormous Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II proved, economic security creates political stability. The next task is to help Afghanistan recover from drought and replant crops, so the nation soon can feed itself.

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