Update 00/01on drought in central Afghanistan
03-10-2000 Operational Update
Consecutive droughts continue to plague Afghanistan since 1998. Rain scarcity has now extended beyond the south and west to affect large parts of the country's north and centre. This dry spell has taken its toll on rural communities, particularly those in the central province of Ghor are suffering from malnutrition and increasingly harsh living conditions.
Meanwhile, tensions renewed between the Northern Alliances and the Taliban authority, following an offensive in July carried out by the Taliban in the north.
The ICRC is mobilising relief goods in response to the situation in a joint assistance programme with the Afghan Red Crescent Society and the International Federation. The ICRC plans to assist 20,000 families in Ghor province -- Chagcharan and Shahrak districts -- before winter sets in. A seed distribution programme will follow in April 2001 to provide the means for farming families to recover their self-sufficiency.
Impact of consecutive droughts
Scarce rains for the third consecutive year worsened the drought as it extended to the north and centre of Afghanistan. The central province of Ghor is among the most severely affected. Thousands of people have already fled from this rural zone to the nearest large city of Herat where they are placed and assisted in camps. Most wells are dry (six to seven meters below normal level) as well as some springs, but drinking water can still be found.
Following poor crop yields in 1999, yields are even more disastrous this year. The harvest of the Afghanee main staple food - wheat - was catastrophic yet again. Rain-fed crops which constitute the vast majority of the agriculture in Ghor have yielded near complete failure. Crops have also suffered due to insufficient water availability for the irrigation systems.
Alarming food shortage
Within Ghor province, Chagcharan is the most affected district with moderate and acute malnutrition cases recorded in almost all villages assessed by the ICRC. As access to food has become alarmingly scarce, some families have had to reduce their three daily meals to one or two a day over the past three months. Since most livestock have been sold in order to purchase basic food, meat and associated livestock products (milk and ghee) are no longer accessible. Consequently, families'main source of energy is cereal (wheat and rice) but this frugal diet lacks vitamins, minerals and diverse sources of animal proteins.
The severity of the situation is reflected by the alarming appearance of food coping mechanisms, such as young boys being sent to remote mountains to catch grasshoppers and gather wild fruits or seeds.
Economical impact: causing displacements towards urban centres
As the drought situation worsened over the past few months, an estimated 5-10% of families have already left Ghor's rural areas towards large cities, mostly Herat. Most villagers who stayed behind claim that they had no alternative as they could not afford to pay for transport to the city.
The drought situation has taken a huge toll on income generation in Ghor, as resources are mainly based on agriculture and livestock. In addition the extensive selling of livestock led in turn to a sharp decrease in livestock prices, one sheep is presently worth less than half of last year's price. The selling of livestock also created a shortage of wool necessary for carpet weaving - women's main source of income. Meanwhile, alternative wool supplies also depleted.
Last year's drought resulted in disastrous harvests, leaving little or no seeds for the next planting season in spring of 2000. In view of this, the ICRC distributed 155 MT of seeds this April to help the drought-stricken population of Ghor province: a total of 2,500 farmer families in Chagcharan, Lal Sarjangal and Sharak districts received seeds for planting (barley, chickpeas and vegetable seeds).
The ICRC conducted an agro-nutritional assessment mid-September across 21 villages mainly in Chagcharan, but also Shahrak and Lal districts.
The ou tcome of the seed distribution was highly insufficient due to continued drought:
Barley (sowed in rain fed areas): no yield was recorded whatsoever, the seeds dried out after germinating due to lack of water.
Chickpea (also rain fed): 30% of all surveyed villages recorded yields between 1:5 and 1:10 - which represent a third of the normal expected average.
Vegetables yielded reportedly'good results'in 70% of cases, but no specific measurements were available.
Food and non food distribution
Since end of July, the ICRC has assisted 2,000 families in Herat who had fled the drought situation in Ghor province. Each family received three monthly half-rations of food, four blankets and a pressure-cooker.
The ICRC, as lead agency of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Afghanistan, is currently mobilising a joint assistance programme with the International Federation and the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS).
The ICRC's main role is to provide food and non food items to ensure the minimum needs of 20,000 farmer families who lost most of their crops and livestock to the drought in Ghor province - targeting the districts of Chaghcharan and Sharhak (see map). The proportion of beneficiaries assisted in those two districts will be 15,000 and 5,000 respectively, as Sharhak is accessible during almost the entire winter period unlike Chaghcharan.
Between early October and end of November, each of the 20,000 beneficiary families (eight persons per family) are to receive:
Food items which - together with the wheat distributed by WFP - cover 100% of food needs for a six month period: 60 kg of split peas and 54 kg of gee (oil).
Non food : six blankets from the ICRC -- or less when Federation provides clothing for those same beneficiaries (total of 1,000 bags of clothing available).
Health : the ARCS, with the Federation's support, is increasing the capacity of its basic health clinic in Chaghcharan, and is mobilising more volunteers in order to assist in the distributions and closely monitor the situation in the coming months. Furthermore, the Federation started putting in place Mobile Health Clinics manned by the ARCS in other drought-affected areas.
In April 2001, a seed distribution will be carried out in Ghor valley, providing up to 6,000 local farmers and returnee families from Herat the means to recover their self-sufficiency.
Distribution pipeline and logistics
The main logistical constraints are the very poor road conditions. Chagcharan becomes inaccessible after the first snowfall, although Sharak remains accessible through most of the winter.
Most relief items will be procured by and transported from the logistics centre in Peshawar, Pakistan. The estimated transport time by truck between Peshawar and Herat (via Kabul and Kandahar) is 15 days, and an additional two to three days are needed to transport the goods into Chagcharan and require using smaller trucks.
The office has temporari ly opened an office in Chagcharan and set up four warehouses.
Ghor province is mainly under Taliban control. However, the highly mountainous and remote geography of the region and total lack of communication systems have enabled the opposition commander to control some areas in the northern part of Chagcharan, near the border of Faryab, Badghis and Jawzjawn provinces. The situation remains calm but tense overall.
The ICRC continues to maintain a dialogue with Taliban authorities and the Northern Alliance, to gain assurances regarding the security and safety of personnel when carrying out its relief activities.
In an effort to ensure a coherent response to the considerable needs of the drought-affected population in Afghanistan, to prevent possible overlap with other programmes and to maximise the exchange of information, the ICRC is co-ordinating its programme with other humanitarian organizations, in particular with the ARCS and the Federation, as well as with several international and non-governmental organizations in Herat, Kabul and in Pakistan.
It is also regularly exchanging information with the UN Agencies. The ICRC is operating in parternship with WFP: both organizations will target the same beneficiaries in a complementary way in Chagcharan. Wheat will be distributed by WFP thus complementing the ICRC food rations while avoiding duplication. Logistics will also be coordinated closely with trucking companies in order to avoid competition.