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Sustained Drought Could Leave Two Million Hungry in Afghanistan

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Two-thirds of war-torn Afghanistan is in the grips of a sustained drought that could trigger food shortages for two million or more people, according to a report late last month from the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the country.

The report concluded that a 70% “precipitation deficit” in most of the country “had affected winter harvests, and resulted in grim prospects for the spring and summer,” the New York Times reports.

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Many farmers have seen their seeds dry out or have delayed planting crops, and there is little or no feed for livestock on pasturelands,” adds senior correspondent Mujib Mashal. “The drought has led to the displacement of thousands of people this spring, adding to the nearly two million who have been forced from their homes in recent years, largely because of violence.”

That prompted humanitarian coordinator Toby Lanze to issue an emergency appeal for US$115 million to head off “a situation of untenable hunger” in six months. “Engage now, prevent a catastrophe, or pay much much more in six months,” he told the Times, recounting what he’s been saying to potential donor countries. “The stakes are very high for Afghanistan on the drought.”

Lanzer’s previous appeal called for $430 million for cattle feed and fodder and other assistance, but only 28% of the total has come in so far.

Afghan chief executive spokesperson Javid Faisal said the government is taking the drought “as seriously as the security situation,” sending tens of thousands of tons of wheat to the most severely-affected areas and earmarking funds for livestock fodder.

But “widespread violence has increased the drought’s impact, resulting in restricted access to markets for many poor farmers,” the Times notes, citing Lanzer’s report. “In Uruzgan Province, farmers have been cut off from the market in the provincial capital, Tirin Kot, because of fighting. In Helmand, where insurgents control or influence most of the territory, farmers need special permission to bring their goods to markets in areas under government control.

The head of the Helmand agriculture department, Ahmad Shah Khairi, said the province has only received 12 millimetres of rain all year, when “we need 280 to 300 millimetres for a fertile year.” The food shortage is worsened when farmers prioritize lucrative poppy crops over wheat or other cereal grains.

“We have distributed improved seeds to 2,000 families and have launched general awareness and built chicken farms,” Khairi added. “But our access is limited due to the constant fighting, which leaves most of the population in need of urgent assistance.”

Drought in the southwestern province of Nimroz is expected to affect 80% of the spring harvest and devastate the summer harvest, with the area under cultivation down from 33,000 to 1,200 hectares in the past year, the Times reports. “In the northwestern province of Badghis, where the population of about 700,000 is dependent on agriculture, officials reported a 60% decrease in the wheat harvest,” with hundreds of animals dead due to drought. “The government plans to distribute more than 3,000 tons of wheat in the coming days, and to keep about 2,000 tons for emergencies.”