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GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

15 May 2008

Rainfall Deficit in Central Areas of Afghanistan - Implications



Despite heavy snowfalls in some areas during the winter, a widespread area of central Afghanistan has received below normal rainfall this agricultural year. From October 2007 through April 2008, a rainfall deficit of 200 mm has developed, in areas which normally receive between 400-800 mm annually. During late February and March, below normal precipitation has been accompanied by above normal temperatures which resulted in an early melt of a below-normal ice pack. Snow rapidly melted away from the central highlands, four to six weeks earlier than usual.

It is feared that the shortfall of winter precipitation in the central highlands accompanied by early snowmelt will result in inadequate water resources for pastures and the May-August rain-fed grain crop. It could also negatively influence the availability of water for the later irrigated wheat crop. Although new snow has again fallen since the beginning of April, the situation needs to be monitored closely.

In case of a poor harvest, most likely to be affected are households in the rain-fed agricultural, pastoral and small-scale farming livelihood zones, and poor urban households. A poor harvest will reduce food availability and increase further the need for imported wheat and food aid. Existing chronic food insecurity is most pronounced in the central highlands affected by the below normal rains, and the northwestern parts of Afghanistan.

The threat of a poor harvest comes in the midst of an already very tight food security situation. The aftermath of war, two severe droughts (2001/2 and 2006), and an ongoing insurgency have increased vulnerability and poverty throughout the country. Half of the population live below the poverty line. The country needs to import over half a million tonnes of wheat to meet basic food needs. Reflecting tight world supplies of wheat and high international prices, the average price of wheat in Afghanistan has doubled from 13.6 Afghanis in January 2007 to 26 Afghanis per kilo currently. The average family used to spend more than 50 percent of its household budget on food, but recent high prices for the staples, have increased that percentage to 75%. The poor spend an even higher percentage of income on trying to cover their food needs.

In addition, rising prices and expectations of a poor harvest in neighbouring Pakistan have led the government there to ban commercial exports of wheat from that country. Only contracts specifically approved by the government may be shipped. Kazakhstan, another key exporter, has recently imposed a ban on exports of wheat until 1st September 2008 to ensure adequate domestic supplies and seek to contain price rises.

Should the 2008 harvest be poor, both the food aid requirements and the number of vulnerable people would rise sharply. Some 2.55 million people are already in need of, and receiving, food assistance.