Afghanistan distributes free bread as prices soar amid coronavirus

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s government began distributing free bread to hundreds of thousands of people across the country this week as supplies have been disrupted during the coronavirus shutdown and prices have soared, officials and experts said.

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More than 250,000 families in the capital Kabul started receiving ten flat ‘Naan’ breads per day in the first phase of the project.

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has said the bread distribution programme was also taking place in other cities as rising prices were hitting what is already one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line.

Kabul’s headline inflation was an annual 7.5% in April and food inflation stood at 16.7%, said Omar Joya, an economist at the independent Biruni Institute think-tank in Kabul, who had access to the government’s latest consumer price data.

“Given Afghanistan’s high dependence on imported food and non-food products, disruption in trade as a result of border closures can have a severe impact on domestic inflation,” Joya said.

The spike in food prices, which has come in the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, is a harsh blow for a country reeling from the decades-old conflict between U.S.-led forces and Taliban insurgents.

“The COVID-19 situation in Afghanistan is quickly turning from a health emergency to a food and livelihood crisis,” said Parvathy Ramaswami, deputy country director of World Food Programme, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan reported on Tuesday it had 3,224 positive cases of coronavirus, including 95 deaths.

“As if blasts and attacks were not enough to make our lives miserable, now we have to deal with fears of a virus and a shortage of food,” said Amiran Jalazi, a mother of four children whose husband was killed in a militant attack this year in Kabul.

(This story corrects inflation figures in paragraph 4 and clarifies they are for Kabul not whole country)

Additional reporting by Abdul Matin Sahak in Mazar-i-Sharif, Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan