U.S. food aid is making its way to the Afghan people, literally and figuratively, from a widening array of sources. The World Food Program appealed to the international community to respond generously to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as well as the surrounding countries, warning the situation could worsen with the onset of winter.

Responding to the need, President Bush quickly announced the United States would provide assistance totaling $320 million through United Nations assistance agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, nongovernmental organizations, and through direct provision of food and relief supplies.

“This [aid] is our way of saying that while we firmly and strongly oppose the Taliban regime, we are friends of the Afghan people,” Bush said. “We will make sure that not only the folks in Afghanistan who need help get help, but we will help those who have fled to neighboring countries to get help as well.”

The United States is the largest food donor to Afghanistan, supplying more than 80 percent of all food shipments sent to vulnerable Afghans through the UN World Food Program. Prior to the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Agriculture had already provided one of the largest food aid packages assembled this year, donating 292,880 metric tons of wheat, with a market value of over $40 million. Total USDA donations to Afghanistan for the 2001 fiscal year approached $100 million.

Wheat is the staple food in the regional diet, and there are estimates that wheat foods (flatbreads and biscuits) contribute over 50 percent of the per capita caloric intake and 85 percent of the protein.

U.S. wheat isn't the only commodity destined for relief. The Australian government announced it will buy 7,200 tons of Australian wheat flour worth about $5 million, for use in refuge camps.

Many other countries are donating money instead, which is used to buy food.

It appears that WFP bought 15,000 tons of Pakistani wheat, using a financial contribution from Canada. A Pakistani government official, who asked not to be named, said the WFP bought the wheat at current market rates.

The Press Trust of India reported that at least one wheat expert in New Delhi was suggesting that India should also offer to sell wheat to WFP for the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan. This is despite the fact that, according to the WFP, nearly 50 percent of the world's hungry live in India and around 35 percent of India's population — 350 million — are considered food-insecure.

Both Pakistan and India are reportedly exploring the option of selling their wheat to the U.S. government, so the United States could donate Indian and Pakistani wheat to the Afghans.