Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

A Wave of Drought and Famine Killing Silently


A Wave of Drought and  Famine Killing Silently

As if the daily high dose of death and violence is not enough, the long dry spell in central regions of the country as well as some Northern provinces, evident in past winter and spring's less than satisfactory rainfall, is now wreaking havoc with people's farmlands and food security across these areas. Bamyan, Maidan Wardak and Daikundi in the center and many provinces in the North are severely affected by the continued dry spell with widespread crop failures resulting into the exodus of thousands of families, and hunger and malnutrition for tens of thousands more.

Provincial officials in the central province of Bamyan are warning that the widespread drought has resulted into large-scale crop failures across the province with more than half of the cultivated farmlands already destroyed. The widespread droughts in central highlands, where otherwise the median annual rate of rainfall stands above the national average, is feeding into an unfolding catastrophe as wheat, the staple food, becomes scarce and feed for the livestock unavailable.

In a region with a primitive economy where farming and raising livestock are the predominant means of survival, the continued dry spell invariably means no harvests and with that no feed for the livestock on which to subsist. In Bamyan province alone, according to provincial officials, more than 90% of the rain fed farmlands has been destroyed as there has been no respite in the prolonged dry spell. A near total of this year's wheat harvest, forecast at around 5,000 tons, will come from the haphazard irrigated patches of farmlands that have escaped the devastating drought.

According to provincial officials in Bamyan, the figure of 5,000 tons is only half of what the inhabitants of the province need to keep themselves fed over the upcoming winter. This means inhabitants in one province alone are going to be in desperate need of at least 4,500 tons of wheat if they are going to survive through the unforgiving winter that is on its way. It is left to the government in Kabul and international aid agencies such as World Food Program to bridge the gap and save the impoverished people of the province from the clutches of hunger and malnutrition over the upcoming winter.

The ensuing food insecurity as a result of ongoing droughts and crop failures comes at a time when World Food Program has announced that it is going to significantly scale back its operations in Afghanistan due to shortage of funding. The United States and Canada, as the major donors to WFP, have reduced the funding of the agency on which the food security of millions in Afghanistan depends. The efforts of the agency itself to find alternate routes of funding to maintain the scale of its operations in Afghanistan has not met with much success.

According to statistics provided by WFP, in 2010 alone, more than 6.5 million Afghans throughout the country relied on WFP's food distributions for the whole or a part of their food intakes. This translates to a whopping ratio of 1 to 5, meaning 1 out of every 5 Afghan would go hungry and extremely malnourished without food assistance provided by WFP's Afghanistan operations. This is enough to reveal the extent of food insecurity, hunger and chronic malnutrition that the people of our country are grappling with on a daily basis.

In a country of 30 million, more than 6 million are chronically hungry with many millions more teetering on the brinks of food insecurity. The sweeping wave of drought and famine is not limited to the central provinces; many Northern regions too have come to be hit by a long and unusual dry spell which has prevented people to sow their farms or has destroyed most of cultivations. In the remote Northeastern province of Badakhshan, the situation is particularly precarious with reports of widespread crop losses and people lacking access to alternate sources of food partly as a result of the inaccessible terrain conditions.

The response of the government of Afghanistan whether at the center or provinces is not hard to foretell. Provincial governments continue to be heavily dependent on and at the mercy of the center if they decide to launch any initiative of their own in order to reduce the unfolding hunger and destitution. Governments whether at the center or provinces continue to be bogged down by inefficiency, chronic incompetence among managers and administrators, cumbersome bureaucracy, a decades-old culture of red tape and to top all, biased and discriminatory treatment to many provinces. The central government's reserves of food grains will fall way short of required quantities to tide over this sweeping wave of famine and drought without assistance by cash-strapped aid agencies such as WFP. In all likelihood, an overwhelming majority of the current famine victims will be condemned to hunger and malnutrition.

What has the potential to further complicate the problems and challenges and significantly add to the numbers of the hungry is the unprecedented rise in international prices of food and grains. In 2008, a combination of skyrocketing prices in international food markets – such as the Chicago Board of Trade – and a wave of drought and famine in Afghanistan pushed million of food-insecure Afghans to the depths of hunger. Fortunately enough, the large-scale food assistance provided by aid agencies and later a steep fall in international food prices helped in bringing the situation under control.

As we start the month of August, 2011, the same deadly combination of unprecedented increase in international food prices and waves of drought and famine are once again threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions. What is deeply disturbing this time is that aid agencies such as WFP have significantly scaled down their food assistance operations and moreover, the historic highs in international food prices, unlike in 2008, are going to stay and even rise further for the foreseeable future.

It seems that there is not going to be any respite in our nation's tryst with hunger, malnutrition and war. For an overwhelming majority of our people, the threat of death and destruction that continues to be a part of the daily existence gets entangled in a web of hunger, malnutrition and destitution from which there seems to be no permanent escape. The continued dependence of a large part of our population on food assistance is increasing at a time when there seems to be a fall in the international community's enthusiasm and commitment to help the country restore its mechanisms of relative self-sufficiency and self-provision. Afghanistan's tryst with misfortune seemingly has no abrupt ending.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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