Call for international aid to avert livestock crisis

Hundreds of thousands of livestock could be lost in Afghanistan in the next six months unless aid agencies urgently provide animal feed, vaccines and water, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MAIL) has warned.

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Over 1.5 million animals (cattle, sheep and goats) - an estimated 10 percent of the country’s livestock - have died over the past two years due to cold weather, diseases and lack of fodder and water, according to aid agencies.

“We fear more animals will perish this winter because drought has further exacerbated the situation [with regard to animal feed],” Azizullah Usmani, head of MAIL’s animal husbandry department, told IRIN.

Large parts of the country have been hit by drought, which has not only affected agriculture but dried up pastures, leaving livestock nothing to eat.

Preventing animal deaths by providing fodder, vaccinations and wells in rural areas is considered crucial for about 495,000 herder households who rely on livestock as their primary source of food and income, according to the Afghan government and aid agencies.

The loss of animals could be catastrophic for many livestock-dependent households, experts warn.

“We will starve to death if we lose our animals,” said Joma Khan, a herder in Faryab Province, northern Afghanistan.

Emergency appeal

In July the Afghan government and aid agencies presented a joint emergency appeal for US$404 million to donors to mitigate the humanitarian impact of high food prices and drought on over five million most vulnerable Afghans.

Over $176 million of the appeal is earmarked for MAIL and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation support for agriculture and livestock, in the face of drought and to cover the harsh winter months.

MAIL is planning to spend over $64 million to procure 148,400 tonnes of animal feed, vaccinate over 15 million animals, and dig 40 deep wells to ensure water supplies for livestock.

Some four months after the appeal was launched only 4 percent of the funds requested have been pledged by donors, government officials said.

Aid agencies and the government said they had repeatedly called on donors to respond quickly to the appeal, which would enable aid workers to prevent a possible winter crisis.

“Donors’ response to the appeal has been too weak,” said MAIL’s Usmani.

The funding challenge is compounded by the fact that snow, which is imminent, will restrict access to some of the most vulnerable areas, aid workers said.

“Following a particularly severe winter in 2007-08 which killed an estimated 1,300-1,700 Afghans, a combination of light spring rain, a summer drought, poor irrigation, low crop yields, rising global food prices and restricted regional wheat exports have created the conditions for a famine in Afghanistan this coming winter,” the Royal United Services Institute - a UK-based research institute - said in a briefing note in October.

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