As the cold season starts in landlocked Afghanistan, concerns are mounting about widespread hunger, particularly in the rugged parts of the country where the first snowfall blocks the roads.
This year there is hope that 30,000 metric tons of wheat coming from another war-torn country, Ukraine, will mitigate the hunger for some Afghans. The U.N. says hunger is nearly universal in Afghanistan with 97% of its population now living below the poverty line.
“Despite its own suffering in the face of Russia’s brutal invasion, Ukraine has donated 30,000 metric tons of grain through the WFP to alleviate Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis,” U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, tweeted last month.
The World Food Program says the wheat is being milled into flour in Turkey and will be then shipped to Pakistan from where it will be delivered to Afghanistan by trucks.
A spokesperson for WFP told VOA the aid shipment is funded by the U.S. “It is not a donation from Ukraine,” said the spokesperson, Annabel Symington.
VOA asked the State Department whether the U.S. offered any financial incentive to Ukraine for the wheat. The answer: No.
“The U.S. did not play a role in Ukraine’s decision to donate this 30,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan and commends Ukraine for its generosity despite the trying circumstances imposed upon it by Russia’s unjust invasion,” the State Department spokesperson said.
In August, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it was giving $68 million to the WFP to buy 150,000 metric tons of wheat from Ukraine to feed needy countries in Africa and Asia.
“Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine was one of WFP’s top suppliers of grain and the fourth largest commercial exporter of wheat. Opening the Ukrainian market is a vital step forward in our emergency response,” USAID said in the statement.
Under a deal brokered by Turkey, Ukraine has exported more than 6.4 million metric tons of wheat and other food items in the past two months, according to the U.N.
The Ukrainian shipments have gone to different countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, where food prices have gone up markedly since Russia embarked on its war against Ukraine in February.
The U.S. has also provided aid to Ukrainian farmers to improve their agricultural products, such as spraying pesticides by drones.
“USAID is supporting the farmers of Ukraine in their efforts to continue feeding Ukrainians and feeding the world,” said Samantha Power, the USAID administrator, while visiting a farm in Ukraine on October 6.
In addition to humanitarian aid, the U.S. has given more than $17.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, according to figures from the State Department.
Why give credit to Ukraine?
While Ukraine has sold the wheat to WFP, why has the U.S. been praising Ukrainian “generosity” and “donation” rather than claiming credit for its own financial sponsorship of the wheat aid to Afghanistan?
“Ukraine is the source of this food,” James S. Gilmore, a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told VOA. “The goal here is to allow Ukraine to engage in international commerce. And, once that’s permitted, over top of this war, then I do think that the American people who are funding it and financing it ought to be given credit for that.”
Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, said the U.S. might have preferred to give credit to Ukraine in order to blunt Russia’s onslaught.
“At the moment, Russia is on the diplomatic offensive in among many developing nations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, scoring points by saying that the U.S. has been imposing various conditionalities on aid and its double standards, etc. And the U.S. is very keen that Ukraine, with which it is allied, is seen in a more positive light among those developing countries.”