Afghanistan's drought and food crisis threatens millions, says church agency

By agency reporter
February 27, 2009

The most severe drought in a decade is fuelling a grave food crisis in Afghanistan that now threatens millions of people with food shortages and possible starvation, reports global humanitarian agency Church World Service.

The agency, with long-established offices and staff in Pakistan and Afghanistan, today announced it is providing immediate assistance to the most vulnerable in three challenged provinces and has issued a US fundraising appeal.

CWS is responding in three districts of Nangarhar Province, three districts of Takhar Province and one district in Laghman Province, where recent droughts have severely affected the residents’ food security and the inflow of Afghan returnees from neighbouring countries has increased the demand for food.

According to Abdur Rashid, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Information and Early Warning System, the situation in Afghanistan is catastrophic.

Church World Service staff report that an absence of the most basic facilities and economic opportunities for the still-internally displaced in Takhar Province, as well as those displaced now returning to Nangarhar, have led to a situation in which people can’t be assured of one good meal a day for themselves and their families.

CWS is responding to food and safe shelter needs for the most vulnerable, with assistance that builds greater and sustainable food production; increases the efficiency of existing irrigation systems; provides clean water for families; and increases communities’ resilience by strengthening livelihoods

“Life continues to be difficult for all Afghans, but the tens of thousands of displaced Afghans and returnees from Pakistan and Iran are particularly at risk,” says CWS Asia and Pacific Region Coordinator Marvin Parvez, who has also directed the CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan programme.

Preparation for next winter’s cropping in the region begins this month. CWS is assisting 1,300 farmers in Nangarhar and Takhar, providing educational training, agricultural inputs to boost climate-adapted agricultural production, and rehabilitation of irrigation systems for increased efficiency and to mitigate damage from further droughts. To 500 farmers, the CWS team is supplying 25 metric tons of improved seeds and 50 metric tons of fertilizers, as well as pesticides.

The agency is also providing a clean water supply for 1,000 families to ward against water-borne diseases, constructing or drilling 40 water supply wells with hand pumps. Additionally, 300 people are participating in “food for work” projects constructing shelter for their families, and free food packages are being distributed to 200 families.

The last decade’s drought follows recurring droughts that have plagued Afghanistan since 1999.

The land is critically degraded and agricultural productivity suffers additionally from uncontrolled grazing, pastureland encroachment and illegal logging. Much of the country remains insecure, as the country struggles to recover after 23 years of continuous war.

Based on UN estimates, some 2.2 million tons of cereals need to be imported into the country this year just to meet basic needs. Commercial imports were expected to supply 1.5 million tons. But, in the current situation—marked by high prices and the smallest wheat harvest in years—any meaningful commercial imports of food and agricultural inputs are unlikely. The bulk of the nearly 1 million-ton shortfall will need to be met by the international donor community.

Contributions to support Church World Service emergency response and recovery efforts may be made online at:

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