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On the heels of ethnic violence, U.N. fears hunger in Kyrgyzstan

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Deadly ethnic clashes in June left thousands of people displaced from their homes
  • The U.N. food agency is concerned about shortages in winter months
  • Adding to the problem is Russia's ban on grain exports

(CNN) -- Concerned about rising food prices, a poor harvest and the onset of winter after violent ethnic conflict, the United Nations is ramping up food operations in Kyrgyzstan.

"Donor response has so far been very positive -- for which we are extremely grateful," said Carl Paulsson, who heads up World Food Programme (WFP) in Kyrgyzstan, in a news release Tuesday. "But we are going to have to ask the donors to dig even deeper into their pockets to prevent people going hungry through the winter."

The WFP found that more than one quarter of Kyrgyz households -- 1.4 million people -- are at risk of hunger and malnutrition. And that was in July, when food availability was at its highest.

The agency warned that another 340,000 people could be at risk in the coming months. Adding to the problem is the recently announced ban on grain exports by Russia, which has spiked flour prices, the WFP said.

"The food security status of all residents in the affected areas is also expected to worsen, as access to jobs, fields and markets remains problematic," the WFP news release said.

Deadly clashes between ethnic Krgyz and minority Uzbeks erupted in the southern part of the country in June, claiming 356 lives and leaving thousands of people displaced from their homes.

The U.N. refugee agency estimated in July that 75,000 people remained displaced. When the violence first broke out, about 400,000 people fled their homes mostly in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. Some streamed into neighboring Uzbekistan.

Human rights groups have accused Kyrgyz law enforcement authorities of failing to respond adequately to the violence. A report issued by Human Rights Watch found that authorities allowed clashes to continue and failed to ensure security for the Uzbeks.

Starting next month, WFP plans to hand out monthly rations to almost 300,000 people. Those will last until the end of the year. WFP is also planning direct cash transfers in September to help with the purchase of food.