Sophont
Thursday, May 27, 2004
 
Food Drop Fiasco
Loompanics Unlimited: " Shortly after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan for supposedly sheltering Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, our TV screens were filled with images of planes dropping food rations into the bombarded country. The little yellow packets were shoved out of cargo holds by the thousands. You could almost hear the government patting itself on the back as it said, ā€œSee, we're actually helping the starving people of Afghanistan.ā€

Trouble is, those food drops were a complete disaster. News reports mentioned some of the problems with the humanitarian effort, but there's a lot they either didn't tell us or got wrong. A nonprofit aid organization called Partners International Foundation decided to see what was going on. These guys aren't granola-crunching flower-children ā€“ they used to be in Special Forces units of the U.S. military. And they didn't content themselves to sit in an office interviewing people by phone. They went into Afghanistan during the heaviest part of the war to find out what was happening for themselves.

Here's what they discovered:

* You know those little packets in vitamin bottles and clothes that are supposed to keep them fresh? Well, many of the little meal packs dropped on Afghanistan contained one of those packets (called a desiccant) to keep the food fresh. Unfortunately, the Afghans aren't familiar with desiccants so they tore them open and ate the powder. Some thought it was medicine, so they noshed it straight. Others figured it was a funky American spice, so they sprinkled it on their beans, rice, or pasta. Lots of Afghans got sick, though we don't know if any deaths occurred. In fact, it's hard to say whether people got sick from chowing down on desiccant or because the food in the packets was usually spoiled.

The food in the packets is usually spoiled. These plastic-wrapped meals weren't made to be dropped from 25,000 to 40,000 feet.

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