By Kay Johnson
KABUL (Reuters) - Funding shortfalls have forced the World Food Program (WFP) to cut rations for up to 1 million people in Afghanistan, an official said, an early sign that aid money may dwindle as the international combat mission winds down.
The U.N. food assistance agency, which runs on donations from member countries, faces a gap of about $30 million for its program in Afghanistan, country director Claude Jibidar told Reuters in an interview.
"We have had to cut down the rations of the people we are assisting, just so that we can buy some time, so we don’t stop altogether," Jibidar said.
He said the cuts, to 1,500 calories a day from 2,100, would affect up to 1 million people, many of whom have had to flee their homes because of the escalating war between the Taliban insurgency and the Western-backed Afghan government.
"Food is something that everybody needs every single day, so it is serious," Jibidar said late on Monday.
The agency has only about six weeks left in which to deposit advance stores of food meant to supply mountainous areas of Afghanistan that usually get cut off during its harsh winter.
Afghanistan has been the recipient of tens of billions of dollars in aid since 2001, when the Taliban's harsh government based on a strict interpretation of Islam was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion.
The country remains in great need. The WFP helps feed a total of 3.7 million Afghans, or about 10 percent of the population.
With most foreign combat troops due to withdraw at the end of this year, many humanitarian groups fear aid flows will dry up as donors become fatigued and focus on other crises, including combating the Ebola virus and helping refugees from the wars in Syria and Iraq.
Most international troops will leave Afghanistan at the end of this year, winding up the combat phase of the mission that began with ousting the Taliban over the shelter they gave the al Qaeda planners of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Aid workers say a drastic slide in aid money could reverse many of the social gains of the last 13 years.
"It is important, at this critical period, that Afghanistan is not forgotten," Jibidar said.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)