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AFGHANISTAN: 1.5 million "severely" hit by drought - minister

KABUL, 17 July 2008 (IRIN) - At least 1.5 million people in 19 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - mostly farming communities in the north - have been severely affected by drought and are in need of urgent humanitarian relief, an Afghan minister told IRIN.

Listen to the audio report in Dari and Pashto.

"About 1.5 million people have lost 70-80 percent of their livelihoods - mostly rain-fed agriculture and livestock - owing to the drought," said Ehsan Zia, minister of rural rehabilitation and development.

The country has about 1.5 million hectares of rain-fed agricultural land which provided one third of domestic cereal production (including wheat, beans, rice and maize) in 2007.

The drought, which officials blame on global warming, has also affected irrigated agricultural land, with yields down 40 percent in many places compared to 2007.

Afghanistan's domestic cereal production is thus set to fall to about 2.3 million tonnes as against 4.6 million tonnes in 2007 - a 50 percent drop - the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock said.

Afghanistan produced close to 90 percent of its domestic cereal consumption needs in 2007, but has long been dependent on imports from Pakistan to make up the shortfall.

Afghan officials say the current shortfall will be made good by food aid deliveries and imports.


Photo: Mirwais Bezhan/IRIN
Most rivers, wells, culverts and other sources of water have run dry in drought-affected provinces, officials say
Shortage of drinking water


People in the north are also in dire need of drinking water as wells and springs have dried up, Minister Zia told IRIN in Kabul on 16 July.

Over 1.15 million people in 22 provinces, including Kabul, have been facing "serious drinking-water shortages", according to a joint UN-government appeal for aid to drought-affected communities, which was launched on 9 July.

"Currently 185 tanker trucks are distributing drinking water to 508 villages and we plan to increase the number," said Zia, adding that demand for water (for drinking and irrigation purposes) was on the rise.

At least 100 health facilities and 400 schools nationwide lack access to safe drinking water, the government reported in July.

Meanwhile, concern is high that "available water sources may soon run dry, resulting in yet more people without access to safe drinking water", the joint appeal warned.

No mass displacement so far

Afghan officials say no drought-related "mass displacement" has occurred thus far, except in one instance in May when 9,000 people reportedly abandoned their homes in Alburz District of northern Balkh Province and camped in the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharrif, the provincial capital. The displaced families were prompted to go back to their homes after officials promised aid would be delivered to their home areas.

"Many young men have gone to other provinces and even outside the country in search of employment to support their families at home," Zia said.

''We are particularly worried about the coming winter when access becomes a challenge and needs mount.''
The government, backed by UN agencies, is trying to prevent large-scale displacements in drought-stricken areas through relief delivery, he said, but he warned that high food prices had made things worse and people would be in need of assistance "until next April".

"We are particularly worried about the coming winter when access becomes a challenge and needs mount."

To mitigate the impact of drought and high food prices, the Afghan government and the UN have jointly appealed for over US$404 million to provide an emergency safety-net to 4.5 million vulnerable people. The government has also earmarked $50 million to procure wheat from regional markets and pre-position it in "strategic stocks", Zia said.

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Theme (s): Environment, Food Security, Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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