Racing Against Time


 WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 The top American official responsible for food and development aid said today that 1.5 million Afghans were starving, and he warned that relief agencies and outside nations were "racing against time" in getting food into the country.

 But the official, Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the Agency for International Development, was upbeat in describing what he called success in meeting goals for feeding the Afghan people.

 The pace of food deliveries has greatly increased, he said. In the first nine days of December, Afghanistan received 29,585 tons of food, or almost 3,000 tons a day, well above the target of 1,800 tons, he said.

 Using charts prepared by the World Food Program, Mr. Natsios said the rate of internal distribution to 7.5 million needy Afghans had also increased, sometimes to twice the daily target figure.

 "I think we've caught it in time," he said of famine, "and I think we're getting the mortality rates down to a lower level."

 One major challenge is to deliver food aid in the next three weeks to the central alpine plain. Snowfall may make access by land impossible by the end of December.

 Relief agencies had calculated that they needed to deliver 30,000 tons of food aid to the plateau before the end of December, and Mr. Natsios said he was confident that the goal would be met.