Drought causes famine in Afghanistan

Three consecutive years of drought and intensifying economic problems have jeopardized Afghanistan's food supply, putting millions in danger of starvation, says a joint Special Alert produced by FAO and WFP.

An estimated 5 million Afghans have little or no access to food, largely because jobs are scarce owing to the abandonment of poppy cultivation and the decline of other cash crops, low livestock prices, herd depletion and displacement due to conflict and drought. "The issue of 'life saving' in Afghanistan is going to be even more crucial this year than it was last year," the alert warns.

The drought has resulted in near total failure of rainfed agriculture and has substantially reduced irrigated farm production. The 2001 cereal output is forecast at about 2 million tonnes, but to feed the population another 2.2 million tonnes are needed. Even with the planned volume of emergency food aid at 386 000 tonnes and an estimated commercial cereal import of 760 000 tonnes, there will remain a large uncovered cereal gap of over 1 million tonnes. The alert calls for an urgent international response to cover this large gap to avert an imminent catastrophe. It recommends providing up to 10 months' worth of food aid to those in need in order to head off starvation and limit displacement. Aid is also required to rehabilitate irrigation systems and infrastructure and to provide quality seed, the alert says.

In addition to the impact on cereal production the drought has also dealt a serious blow to livestock in Afghanistan. The continued decimation of the livestock population has had catastrophic livelihood consequences for the Kuchi nomads and a serious adverse impact on livestock-holding farmers. To protect the remaining livestock population and to ensure the survival of the breeding stock veterinary services and supplies are needed

Finally the alert highlights that "with the abandonment of poppy cultivation in 2001, the world is rid of 3 000-4 000 tonnes of opium and derivatives this year." This is an exceptionally positive development, but it has imposed severe economic hardship on poppy farmers, workers and traders, and it comes at a time when intensifying economic problems limit the opportunities for alternative income sources for millions of Afghans.

"Unless people get assistance to have access to food and to find viable alternative economic opportunities, which are becoming increasingly scarce, they may be forced to revert to poppy cultivation. The international community has a major opportunity in ensuring that this very positive development is not reversed," the alert warns.

13 June 2001

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