Dry winter threatens lives of 1 million Afghans, says UNICEF

Afghan children play on an abandoned armored vehicle in Kabul. A lack of rain, in late 2017 and early this year, is leading to food insecurity and water scarcity that could worsen the already high malnutrition rates among children in Afghanistan. (Reuters)
Updated 23 April 2018
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Dry winter threatens lives of 1 million Afghans, says UNICEF

  • A harsh winter has adversely affected much of Afghanistan and led to drought.
  • A drought emergency task force has been set up by the Afghan government to coordinate and align the response across all sectors, including education, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security and agriculture.

KABUL: A severe dry winter has affected 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, threatening the lives of 1 million Afghans, in addition to another 2 million who may feel its impact in the coming months as a hot summer approaches, UNICEF warned on Monday.

A lack of rain in late 2017 and early this year is leading to food insecurity and water scarcity that could worsen the already high malnutrition rates among children, UNICEF said in a statement.

Food insecurity and reduced access to safe water are beginning to take their toll on the 10 worst affected provinces where 20 to 30 percent of water sources are reportedly dry, the statement said.

“The impact on children could be devastating as these areas have pre-existing high rates of malnutrition. Without adequate nutritious food and safe water for drinking, as well as for hygiene and sanitation, children’s health will only worsen.”

“The extremely dry winter has affected 22 provinces in Afghanistan and now threatens to negatively impact the lives of one million people, with an additional 2 million who may feel its effects over the coming months,” it added.

The priority is to prevent the situation from deteriorating by responding to the needs of children and families in the worst affected areas, Adele Khodr, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan, said in the statement.

The organization said the impact of the drought could not have come at a worse time as cases of severe acute malnutrition — seasonal malnutrition — rise on average by about 25 percent each year in the summer months. Some 1.6 million children and 443,000 pregnant and lactating women suffer from malnutrition all over Afghanistan, notes the UN body.

A drought emergency task force has been set up by the Afghan government to coordinate and align the response across all sectors, including education, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security and agriculture.

Cattle and other animals have perished by the hundreds as a result of drought which has forced some farmers from northern areas to send their cattle into central Asia for survival and grazing, according to residents.

President Ashraf Ghani recently ordered the country’s agriculture ministry to distribute forage to farmers.

Due to bad crops and a lack of access to clean drinking water, an estimated 100 families from the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province have been forced to move to Herat to find alternative work, UNICEF said.

“The situation is further complicated as a result of escalating conflict that often occurs at this time of year, leading to increased displacement and reduced access for humanitarian workers,” it said.

Among the affected provinces are Badghis, Bamyan, Daykundi, Ghor, Helmand, Kandahar, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Nuristan, Takhar, and Uruzgan which are in a state of critical priority for nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene assistance.

Thirteen provinces, out of the country’s total of 34, received less than 30 percent of their average annual rainfall in the period October 2017 to the end of February 2018.

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Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

Updated 21 July 2019
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Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

  • “I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interests,” Abe said

TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition secured a majority in Japan’s upper house of parliament in elections Sunday but will not reach the super-majority needed to propose constitutional revisions, according to vote counts by public television and other media.
NHK public television said shortly after midnight that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito had won 69 seats in the upper house, with nine seats remaining. If Abe gained support from members of another conservative party and independents, it would make only 76 seats, short of 85 he would have needed, NHK said.
Abe’s ruling bloc already has a two-thirds majority in the lower house, but without such control of the upper chamber, he has a slim chance of achieving his long-cherished goal of constitutional reform.
Nonetheless, Abe welcomed the results, saying winning a majority indicates a public mandate for his government.
“I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interests,” Abe said in an interview with NHK.
Abe hopes to gain enough seats to boost his chances to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution — his long-cherished goal before his term ends in 2021.
But it’s a challenge because voters are more concerned about their jobs, economy and social security. Abe, who wants to bolster Japan’s defense capability, is now proposing adding the Self-Defense Force, or Japan’s military, to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution. He said he is not considering running for another term.
Abe said resolving the decades-old issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea and signing a peace treaty with Russia would be his diplomatic priorities during the rest of his term.
Opposition parties have focused on concerns over household finances, such as the impact from an upcoming 10% sales tax increase and strains on the public pension system amid Japan’s aging population.
Abe has led his Liberal Democratic Party to five consecutive parliamentary election victories since 2012.
He has prioritized revitalizing Japan’s economy and has steadily bolstered the country’s defenses in the backdrop of North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats and China’s growing military presence. He also has showcased his diplomatic skills by cultivating warm ties with President Donald Trump.
Abe needs approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses to propose a constitutional revision and seek a national referendum. His ruling bloc has a two-thirds majority in the more powerful lower house.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and three other liberal-leaning parties teamed up in some districts. They stressed support for gender equality and LGBT issues — areas Abe’s ultra-conservative lawmakers are reluctant to back.
At a polling station in Tokyo’s Chuo district on Sunday, voters were divided over Abe’s 6 1/2-year rule.
A voter who identified himself only as a company worker in his 40s said he chose a candidate and a party that have demonstrated an ability to get things done, suggesting he voted for Abe’s ruling party and its candidate, as “there is no point in casting my vote for a party or a politician who has no such abilities.”
Another voter, Katsunori Takeuchi, a 57-year-old fish market worker, said it was time to change the dominance of Abe and his ultra-conservative policies.
“I think the ruling party has been dominating politics for far too long and it is causing damage,” he said.