Farm­ers hit by worst drought in decades

China Daily - - WORLD -

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — Af­ter his wheat crop failed and wells dried up, Ghu­lam Ab­bas sold his an­i­mals and joined thou­sands of other farm­ers mi­grat­ing to cities as Afghanistan’s worst drought in liv­ing mem­ory rav­ages the coun­try.

A huge short­fall in snow and rain across much of the coun­try over the nor­mally wet colder months dec­i­mated the win­ter har­vest, threat­en­ing the al­ready pre­car­i­ous liveli­hoods of mil­lions of farm­ers and spark­ing warn­ings of se­vere food short­ages.

Like hun­dreds of farm­ing fam­i­lies in Charkint vil­lage in the nor­mally fer­tile north­ern prov­ince of Balkh, Ab­bas, 45, has moved with 11 fam­ily mem­bers to the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal Mazar-i-Sharif to find work.

“I don’t re­mem­ber a drought as se­vere as this year’s,” said Ab­bas, who has been a farmer for more than three decades.

“We never had to leave our vil­lage or sell our an­i­mals be­cause of a drought in the past.”

As dry con­di­tions and high tem­per­a­tures per­sist, there are grow­ing con­cerns about the spring and sum­mer crops that will be har­vested later this year.

Afghanistan’s 2018 wheat har­vest is al­ready ex­pected to be the low­est since at least 2011, ac­cord­ing to the Famine Early Warn­ing Sys­tems Net­work, set up by USAID in 1985.

Faced with an es­ti­mated short­fall of 2.5 mil­lion tons of wheat this year, more than two mil­lion peo­ple could be­come “se­verely food in­se­cure” and would be in “des­per­ate need” of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance in the next six months, the United Na­tions has warned.

Tens of thou­sands of sheep and goats have died and many farm­ers have eaten the seeds for the next plant­ing sea­son, as rivers and wells dry up and pas­tures turn to dust.

“If the au­thor­i­ties and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity don’t step up to this chal­lenge now, Afghanistan could face a calamity as we head into the next win­ter,” UN Hu­man­i­tar­ian Co­or­di­na­tor in Afghanistan Toby Lanzer said re­cently.

Afghan au­thor­i­ties have so far pro­vided lim­ited as­sis­tance to farm­ers and in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies are strug­gling to meet the grow­ing de­mand.

UN food and other as­sis­tance has reached more than 460,000 peo­ple in drought-af­fected prov­inces in re­cent months, Lanzer said — less than a quar­ter of those who need it.

An agree­ment be­tween in­ter­na­tional agen­cies and the Afghan gov­ern­ment to re­lease 60,000 tonnes of wheat cur­rently held in the coun­try’s strate­gic grain re­serve and turn it into min­eral-for­ti­fied flour will help.

“It won’t be enough for what is needed, but it’s a very good start,” Lanzer said.

If much-needed aid does not reach farm­ers soon, more might turn to more droughtre­sis­tant crops such as opium pop­pies, Ab­bas warned.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest pro­ducer of opium, de­spite bil­lions of dol­lars be­ing spent on coun­ternar­cotics ef­forts since the US-led in­va­sion in 2001.

“A gov­ern­ment which is hardly able to pay its soldiers to fight can­not reach out to help peo­ple in these re­mote ar­eas,” Ab­bas said.

“The con­di­tions will even­tu­ally force peo­ple to turn to il­le­gal crops.”

FARSHAD USYAN / AFP

A boy uses a wa­ter pump to col­lect wa­ter in Sakhi vil­lage on the out­skirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

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