UN says Afghan refugees repatriated from Pakistan pass 25 million mark

This means that in total more than 3.7 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan and Iran since 2002, when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began its current repatriation programmes after the fall of the Taliban regime, making it the largest repatriation operation in the world.“This unprecedented number of people returning to their homeland is a testament to the desire of Afghan refugees to participate in the rebuilding of their country,” High Commissioner António Guterres said in Geneva. So far this year alone, the total number of Afghans returning from Pakistan with UNHCR assistance surpassed 200,000. In Iran, UNHCR has helped nearly 800,000 Afghans to repatriate since 2002, with another 400,000 leaving on their own. Under the repatriation programme, each returning Afghan receives a cash grant for transport assistance ranging from $3 to $34 per person, depending on the destination. They are also provided with a cash grant of $12 in place of food and non-food items distributed previously.Meanwhile the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that the second major phase of Afghanistan’s child soldier demobilization and reintegration campaign got underway in the west of the country this week, with an expected 3,500 children likely to benefit from the initiative in the coming three months.The nationwide programme, which relies heavily upon the support of local communities and is backed by UNICEF, began in February 2004 and has so far assisted just over 4,000 former child soldiers in a country that has been torn by more than 25 years of war and civil strife. Adding another tool to UN efforts to help rehabilitate the country, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has produced 10,000 board games in both Dari and Pashtu to teach disadvantaged children about key events in the peace process, such as the new constitution and elections, as well as highlighting environmental issues, health, and education. Called The Road to Peace, the game is being distributed by UNAMA’s Office of Communication and Public Information (OCPI) primarily to 10-14 year olds affected by the war, including former child soldiers, underprivileged children and refugee families. read more

Global food prices up in January cereal prices keep rising despite improved

According to a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the January Food Price Index – which measures the monthly change in international prices for five major food commodity groups: major cereals, vegetable oils, dairy, meat, and sugar – averaged 173.8 per cent in January, its highest value in almost two years, marking a 2.1 per cent increase from its revised December value and 16.4 per cent above the year-earlier level.While 2016 marked the fifth consecutive year the global food price index has fallen, January marked its sixth monthly increase in a row.Sugar prices surged 9.9 per cent in the month, driven by expectations of protracted supply tightness in Brazil, India and Thailand.Cereal prices rose 3.4 per cent from December to a six-month high, with wheat, maize and rice values all increasing.International prices of rice also rose, in part due to India’s ongoing state procurement programme, reducing the quantities available for export.Vegetable oil prices rose 1.8 per cent, due mostly to low global inventory levels of palm oil coupled with a slow production recovery in Southeast Asia. Soy oil prices, by contrast, eased on expectations of ample global availability.Dairy prices remained unchanged from December, a marked departure from the 50 per cent increase it posted between May and December last year.Meat prices were also practically unchanged, with a rise in bovine meat quotations – the result of herd rebuilding in Australia – offset by lower prices of ovine and other meats.World cereal stocks at all-time high due to record productionWorldwide inventories of cereals are on course to reach an all-time record level by the end of seasons in 2017, according to FAO’s latest Cereal Supply and Demand Brief.Latest figures put global cereal stocks at 681 million metric tonnes, up 1.5 per cent from their December forecasted level and 3 per cent from the previous season. World wheat inventories would likely hit a new record of 245 million tonnes, marking an 8.3 per cent annual increase. Coarse grain stocks are forecast to grow by 0.7 per cent to reach their second-highest level on record, while rice stocks are set to decline slightly although ending the season at a near-record 170 million tonnes. FAO has also raised its estimate of global cereal output in 2016 by 15 million metric tonnes to 2,592 million tonnes, due primarily to larger-than-expected wheat harvests in Australia and Russia. For rice, excess rains over parts of Viet Nam and inadequate rainfall in Sri Lanka will likely curb rice output. read more