Communities affected by drought in Afghanistan are struggling with hunger

Communities affected by drought in Afghanistan are struggling with hunger

27/03/2019

Consecutive drought in the last three years – followed by a severe drought during the 2017/2018 wet season – hit almost two out of three provinces in Afghanistan, destabilizing the lives of vulnerable families and pressuring the adoption of negative coping strategies. The varied coping strategies include distress sale of productive assets (livestock and land), indebtedness and displacement from rural to urban areas, especially in the West region.

The severe drought compounded the chronic food insecurity caused mainly by the years of conflict and recurrent natural disasters. According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, an estimated 13.5 million people across the country are severely food insecure.

The hardest hit area was the western region, where more than 300 000 people have fled to Badghis, Ghor and Herat provinces. In Herat, more than 1 million people are in dire need of food and water. This figure has been added upon an already number of drought-affected people, who are in immediate need of emergency assistance in Herat.

Rezeshk, a poor village in Herat, was particularly affected by the drought. Families living in this village are highly dependent on farming and their livestock to make a living. The persisting drought in this village resulted in crop production losses, animal mortality and morbidity, distress sale of livestock and outbreak of human diseases due to lack of nutritious food.

For 60-year-old Ziba, a Rezeshk-native living in a household of ten members, this is the reality. Agriculture is the main source of income for her and her family. But this year, their animal failed to produce enough milk and their crops failed due to water shortage. “The drought has ruined our lives. Our crop production has become low and we do not get enough nutritious food. We all have become sick,” she said.

The drought has further exacerbated malnutrition levels. Ziba explains that before the drought, their diets were diverse, nutritious and healthy. However, due to lack of access to food, her and her family are constantly ill and cannot afford health services. To cope, they have reduced their meals from three to two times a day.

Ziba is not alone. Afsana is a 20-year-old mother to two daughters and shares an accommodation with four other families to save costs. As a farmer, Afsana’s husband, and other vulnerable families in the area, fully rely on agriculture for their income. Before the drought struck their village, Afsana and her family used to earn money through their crops and by selling their cattle’s milk. After the drought, they had to reduce the number of animals they had because it was difficult to feed them. With two cows remaining, Afsana is forced is to sell her livestock as she cannot afford to buy animal feed. Yet, no one buys them.

“The pasture has dried up and the fodder price has gone up. We cannot afford to buy fodder from the market. Our cattle do not produce enough milk and it’s obvious if they do not eat sufficiently, they will not produce enough milk,” said Afsana. She explained that the money they get from the sale of milk is not enough to contribute to their livelihoods because that money goes towards buying animal feed for their cattle.

Mohammad Dawood, a 57-year-old, is head of a farmers committee in Rezeshk. He recounts how the drought affected employment and heavily damaged agricultural lands. He also recounts how his village was more watershed than any other village, but now the water level has gone down by more than 5 m. “This is the first time in 57 years of my life that I am experiencing such a condition. I do not ever remember experiencing lack of water in our streams, but now it is continuously absent for 2-3 days,” he said.

So far, with generous support from resource partners, FAO reached 1 million vulnerable drought-affected people like Ziba, Afsana and Mohammad to meet their immediate needs through emergency livelihoods assistance, enhance their resilience to shocks and prevent further migration and abandonment from their homes.

FAO’s intervention for emergency livestock protection has included the provision of drought-resistant fodder seeds and training to equip farmers with the required skills and tools to get the best yield possible. To ensure the protection of livestock, FAO has distributed concentrated animal feed during the harsh winter.

While significant efforts have been made by resources and humanitarian partners to address the needs of vulnerable households affected by drought, the needs and gaps still remain high. Continuous drought in the last three years has destroyed assets, leaving vulnerable households with little to no option for their livelihoods. More effort is needed to ensure that affected farming families get back to their normal lives.

This past winter season, Afghanistan experienced better precipitation over the last three years. However, reports suggest that many parts of the country will be hit by flooding and landslides, which will increase the number of people in need.
“The impact of drought is particularly distressing for farmers. They do not have the ability to buy seeds for their farmlands nor protect their livestock. Our goal is to support those most affected by the drought in their places of origin to enhance their resilience to shocks and prevent further migration and abandonment from their homes,” said Rajendra Aryal, the FAO Representative in Afghanistan.

In 2019, FAO is appealing for USD 30 million to reach 1.4 million vulnerable drought-affected people, especially those facing emergency levels of food insecurity. Emergency livelihoods support to vulnerable farmers and pastoralists will enable them to cultivate summer crops, nutritious vegetables and the main staple of the country – wheat, as well as to protect their core breeding animals, and increase their income generation and intake of nutritious food with poultry distribution.