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Russia is ready to provide Afghanistan with additional humanitarian
Russia is ready to provide Afghanistan with additional humanitarian aid to help tackle a food shortage following severe drought and a poor harvest in the country, Russia's UN envoy said.

The United Nations and Afghanistan's government launched a $400-million food aid appeal Wednesday to help feed 4.5 million vulnerable Afghans affected by rising global food prices and a poor harvest, which saw the country's annual grain output cut by around 36% according to UN figures.

"The Russian president has already instructed the government to arrange the urgent supply of 15,000 metric tons of wheat as part of humanitarian aid after an earlier appeal launched earlier by Afghanistan," Vitaly Churkin told a UN meeting on Afghanistan Wednesday.

"In addition, Russia is planning to donate $4 million to the multilateral Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) in 2008-2009," he said.

Since its commencement of operations in 2002, the ARTF has successfully mobilized $2.3 billion in grant contributions from 27 international donors.

Churkin said Russia had already made a significant contribution to the country's economic stabilization by writing off last August around 90% of Afghanistan's Soviet-era debt, a sum totaling $11.1 billion, with the remainder to be repaid over 23 years.

The Russian diplomat also said Russia is concerned by the worsening military and political situation in Afghanistan amid an ongoing rise in extremism and drug production.

Since the Taliban regime was overthrown in the 2001 U.S.-led campaign, Afghanistan, with almost all its arable land being sown with poppy, is the world's leading producer of heroin.

Afghanistan's opium production increased from 6,100 tons in 2006 to 8,200 tons in 2007, according to the UN. The narcotics trade has become an acute problem for Russia and the Central Asian republics due to a continual flow of illegal drugs from Afghanistan.

Churkin said regional security organizations could make a significant contribution to combating the inflow of drugs from Afghanistan and ensuring regional security.

"We must use more extensively the potential and experience of regional security organizations, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which have proven their effectiveness in the fight against illicit drug-trafficking," he said.

The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, while the SCO also includes most CSTO countries and China, apart from Armenia and Belarus, with Mongolia, India, Iran and Pakistan having SCO observer status.

Last year CSTO drug squads seized over 28 metric tons of narcotics on the border with Afghanistan during a joint anti-drug operation, dubbed Channel, which has been running since 2003.

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