NATIONAL

Indian biscuits reach Afghan children

KABUL Feb. 16. After travelling a long and circuitous route, high energy biscuits donated by India have finally reached Afghan children. In simultaneous ceremonies across the nation today, the World Food Programme began the distribution of the nutritious snack to children.

In an event to mark the occasion in the capital, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, welcomed the Indian assistance as "a special gift to our young generation''. "India could not make a more important investment in Afghanistan than this, by assisting our children and strengthening our education system," Mr. Karzai added.

The crunchy golden biscuits are expected to provide a big boost to child nutrition and school attendance in Afghanistan. The biscuits are part of the massive one million tonne wheat donation announced by India last year.

When Pakistan refused to let the wheat travel overland to Afghanistan, India and the WFP came up with the idea of converting the wheat into biscuits and ship them through Iran. Three Indian bakeries cooked 40,000 tonnes of wheat into biscuits packed with protein and vitamins. The biscuits travelled by sea from Kandla port in Gujarat to Bandar Abbas in Iran, and they by rail and road to four Afghan cities — Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad.

At the ceremonies today in these cities, kites in Indian tricolour were also distributed to the children. Kite-flying, a traditional passion among Afghan children, was banned during the Taliban rule.

Susana Rico, deputy director of WFP in Afghanistan, said, "the most effective way for poor children to change their lives is by learning to read and write''. "We are grateful to the Government of India for supporting the opportunity for children to learn and thereby build a better future for Afghanistan,'' she said. At the function in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, 1,200 children were present. More than 500 of them were girls. The Indian biscuit donation programme is expected to run for eight months.

In addition to the one million tonnes of wheat, the Government of India is contributing 15,000 tonnes of rice to WFP that will be used to offset the incidental costs of producing and distributing the biscuits.

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