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Afghanistan’s Drought Elicits Both Panic & A Wait-and-see Approach
Afghanis use a water pump in Sakhi village on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. Thousands of farmers are migrating to cities amid Afghanistan's worst drought in at least a decade. (Farshad Usyan/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan’s Drought Elicits Both Panic & A Wait-and-see Approach

While many are suffering, government authorities claim the drought is cyclical and will likely end soon

Large swathes of Afghanistan have for nearly half a year been gripped by drought, forcing more than 130,000 people from their homes in search of food and water, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Some observers are beginning to sound the alarm on what could be a humanitarian catastrophe. Muhammad Omaid, a resident of Kandahar, told The Media Line that people in the region are drinking dirty water out of desperation and getting sick.

However, government officials and NGOs are not yet hitting the panic button. “It is a bit too early to make drastic statements about the drought, although the predictions so far are indeed that it could be worse than those past,” Zlatan Milisic, Afghanistan Director of the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP), asserted to The Media Line.

He emphasized that the government for the first time in its history has given food to the WFP so the agency can assist with distribution services. Kabul also has appointed farm leaders and other community heads to help inform local growers on how to develop ways of minimizing the impact of the drought in areas controlled by hostile groups.

The government views the farmers, many of whom are educated and own property, as invaluable partners in the current water crisis. They provide government officials with much-needed information about far-flung areas. For example, the government is working with them to prepare seeds that can be planted when more rain is predicted. It is also enlisting the help of UN researchers to develop ways to weather future droughts.

“Afghanistan goes through a continuous cycle of three or four years with white, snow-capped mountains across the country, and three or four years of water shortages,” Hamdullah Amdare, Afghanistan’s acting Deputy Minister of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock, explained to The Media Line. He added that this cycle could bring more snow and hence more water soon, thereby ending the drought.

“We really need to wait for next year. If it continues then, of course, this could become a big disaster because this year we had limited dry-land agriculture,” Amdare elaborated. He stressed that the severity of the drought, while not yet a year-long, has not been experienced in many years.

“Next we will be focusing more on irrigation, as this is the next big issue.”

Philippe Kropf, OCHA’s public information officer, told The Media Line that most of those who left their homes were from rural areas. “They are now taking up temporary residence in makeshift sites in urban centers.”

According to OCHA’s Afghanistan Humanitarian Bulletin “many affected families are living on one meal a day, consisting only of bread and water.”

Agencies, Kropf expounded, are presently collecting data on emergency food needs that will give the WFP a better idea of the extent of the drought in different areas of the country. Farmers are acutely feeling the water shortage because this time of year is usually harvest time. But the lack of rain has decimated typical yields.

Other factors are making this drought worse than previous dry spells. Ongoing Afghan anti-terrorism operations have made it harder for government and UN personnel to reach remotes areas most affected by the drought.

As for now, Kandahar resident Omaid believes the government is doing all it can given its limited resources and the breadth of the water shortages. Nevertheless, he concluded, “at this point people are shocked and very worried about how long this drought will last; they are suffering a lot.”

(Jinitzail Hernandez is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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