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Millions of Drought-Stricken Afghans Need 'Vital' Attention as Winter Nears

Some 2.5 million drought-stricken people across much of Afghanistan have lost their crops and are facing acute food shortages, international aid group Christian Aid warned recently in the capital, Kab
( [email protected] ) Oct 21, 2006 10:47 AM EDT

Some 2.5 million drought-stricken people across much of Afghanistan have lost their crops and are facing acute food shortages, international aid group Christian Aid warned recently in the capital, Kabul.

The U.K.-based Christian agency previously reported that the citizens were facing severe hunger after parts of the country witnessed complete harvest failure.

An assessment carried out by the aid group in 66 villages in the provinces of Badghis, Farah, Faryab, Herat and Ghor, mainly in the northwest, found that many people have lost 70 to 80 percent of their rain-fed crops after sparse rains last winter and spring.

According to government figures, around 20,000 people have left their homes in order to survive.

The hunger is further impacting livestock farmers by forcing them to sell their animals or move them to areas where there is still pasture and water – developments which are exacerbating the existing food shortages, Christian Aid reported.

"It is really vital now to realize the plight of these [drought-stricken] people as the winter is getting closer and snow could close roads to many of the remote parts of those provinces," said Sultan Maqsood Fazil, Christian Aid's advocacy officer in Afghanistan.

The drought is also acute in other parts of Afghanistan. Abdul Manan, 40, left his house in the Shamalzo district of the southern province of Zabul after his garden and wheat crops dried up, and moved his family to Qalat, the provincial capital.

"I lost all I had there including 500 almond trees which are completely dried up. I also lost my wheat crops," the father-of-four told. "Even finding drinking water was so difficult that people have been forced to leave their houses."

Manan is one of thousands of individuals who have left their houses in Zabul, a province that has been badly hit by consecutive years of drought. More than 2,500 families who live in various districts of Zabul have recently left their villages and now many of them are living in Qalat city, according to Akhtar Mohammad Afzal, head of the provincial Rural Rehabilitation and Development (RRD) office.

"Many people are still leaving their villages due to severe drought and water shortages and coming to Qalat or Kandahar city, [but] have not seen any assistance yet," Afzal asserted.

Another 6.5 million people are likely to suffer chronic food insecurity due to the lack of rainfall this year, Christian Aid reported.

Local authorities in Helmand province had earlier appealed for urgent assistance for some 5,000 families who have been displaced by drought and recent fighting in the area.

The combination of insecurity and drought is making it hard to get humanitarian aid to the area.

"It is relatively difficult for aid agencies and the government to get relief assistance into those [southern] areas where there is currently insurgency fighting. This will greatly increase displacement and slow down the process of refugee repatriation from neighboring countries in the long run," Fazil maintained.

Christian Aid is working to alleviate the situation by funding several projects in Herat province to dig new wells or expand existing ones.

The charity has already started contacting donors to raise funds to provide assistance to those affected by the drought and will launch a joint appeal with other agencies later this month.

Christian Aid is appealing for money urgently needed to provide drinking water, food, animal fodder and counseling. It will also use the funds raised for longer-term priorities like healthcare and agricultural improvement work.

The charity called on international donors, including the British government, to pledge money to the emergency drought appeal launched by the U.N. and Afghan government, which have asked for $76 million.