There are no accurate figures on the number of Kuchis - predominantly Pashtun nomads - in Afghanistan. The war-ravaged country has not conducted a population census in 25 years, and counting Kuchis is particularly difficult because of their nomadic lifestyle.
However, the Independent Directorate of Kuchi Affairs (IDKA), estimates their number at 2-3 million.
The past two decades of armed conflict, poverty and other socio-economic changes have had a profound impact on Kuchi families, their way of life and their livelihoods, experts say.
“In the past Kuchis had access to pastures and grazing land all across the country,” said Daudshah Niazi, director of the IDKA in Kabul. “Now, local people do not allow Kuchis to enter their areas, and widespread insecurity, local militias and landmines also inhibit their access to grazing land,” he said.
In some instances this has led to clashes over grazing rights, for example between Kuchis and Farsi-speaking Hazaras in the central highlands when several people were killed in July 2007.
Years of drought and environmental degradation have further deteriorated Kuchi herders’ access to pasture land.
Rapid urbanisation and imports of dairy produce from Iran and Pakistan have also reduced demand for traditional Kuchi produce which, according to the IDKA, accounted for up to 35 percent of Afghanistan’s dairy produce in the 1980s.
Photo: Akmal Dawi/IRIN
|According to a government directorate dealing with Kuchis and Afghanistan's finance ministry, Kuchis have received only 20 US cents per-person international aid money for development|
Since 2001 donors, aid agencies and the government have disbursed over US$15 billion in developmental aid, but precious little has reached the Kuchis, Ministry of Finance (MoF) officials concede.
Per capita aid to Afghanistan is estimated at about $60, but the Kuchis have received an estimated 20 US cents per person, according to IDKA and statistics compiled by MoF.
“International aid money has usually been earmarked through provincial and ministerial budgets, and Kuchis have been left out because there is no Kuchi province and/or ministry,” said Ali Ahmad Rahmani, an official of the MoF.
Kuchis have 10 of the 249 seats in the lower house of the Afghan National Assembly, and they are widely under-represented in provincial and district councils in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces because they are not considered to be local residents.
Time to settle?
Many Kuchis say the time has come for them to establish a settled existence somewhere, as their traditional way of life has become unsustainable. But the prospects do not look bright.
A young Kuchi man, Torak Jan, explained his wish-list: “We want land on which to build our houses; we want our children to be educated; we want our patients to be treated in hospitals; we want to have jobs; we want safe drinking-water; we want electricity; and we want a normal life like everybody else in this country.”
However, the Kuchis’ desire for a settled life is hampered by the Afghan government’s inability to provide such things and by the Kuchis under-representation in provincial and national decision-making bodies.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly promised to establish mobile schools and health clinics for Kuchis, but little has been done so far, according to Niazi of the IDKA.
“God created Kuchis to wander in deserts, valleys and mountains… and raise animals,” said Shah Mirlal, an elderly Kuchi. He would be happy to remain a Kuchi like his forefathers, but, he said: “I am not a Kuchi any more, but a poor and desperate human being.”
Photo: Akmal Dawi/IRIN
|Kuchis widely suffer lack of access to health services and have higher maternal and infant mortality rates compared to other groups|
No community is as vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, as the over 400 nomadic families that live in tents and mud huts in Sheengazay District on the outskirts of Kandahar city.
Their tents are vulnerable to seasonal flooding, their women and children to disease, and their main source of livelihood - animal husbandry - to various risks.
Since autumn 2007, when the Kuchis first camped in Sheengazay, at least 15 children and five women have died owing to diarrhoea, pneumonia and lack of medical facilities, Kuchi elders told IRIN.
Kuchi children in Sheengazay do not have access to formal education and schooling. Like their parents they will most probably end up illiterate with few prospects for a better future.
Camped on privately-owned land, they are liable to eviction at any time and could be forced to roam in areas either affected by insecurity or replete with anti-personnel landmines and unexploded ordnance.
“We are tired of this life,” one elder, Zalem Kahn, said.