Afghans grapple with the worst drought in decades

About 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have been hit by the drought with millions of people affected. (AFP)
Updated 02 August 2018
0

Afghans grapple with the worst drought in decades

  • About 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have felt the brunt of the worst drought in the country’s history with millions of people affected and thousands of households displaced in search of water.
  • The country’s 2018 harvest is expected to be even lower; down from 4.2 million metric tons to 3.5 million metric tons, the UN said in a recent report.

KABUL: Sardar Wali had to wait three weeks for his turn to have a well dug by a drilling firm in Kabul, and after two weeks of drilling the only sign of water appeared 80 meters below the surface.
He still considers himself lucky because he had the cash to get a well dug and, more importantly, unlike other parts of Afghanistan, the water table in his area had not completely dried up.
There are many more desperate drillers searching in parts of Kabul where the water level has gone down drastically in recent years.
Afghanistan faces the worst drought in decades. About 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have been hit by the drought with millions of people affected. With livestock dying and no crops, thousands of households have been displaced in search of water.
“In the 20 provinces most affected by the drought, nearly 15 million people rely on farming, livestock or labor opportunities in agriculture,” a recent UN report said.
“Of these, an estimated 2 million people will become severely food insecure due to the drought. Humanitarian partners are ramping up their response across the country, trying to reach 1.4 million of the most vulnerable girls, boys, women and men struck by the drought.”
According to the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Emergency Response Mechanism report, “particularly hard hit are the provinces of Ghor and Badghis, which have generated displacement of over 9,000 households into Herat City, and approx. 1,000 households in Qala e Now, Badghis.”
“The vast majority of these households remain unassisted, lacking access to safe drinking water, shelter or adequate sanitation facilities and food, and as a result, sinking into increased vulnerability; sinking into increasing levels of vulnerability and employing negative coping mechanisms such as skipping meals and using money lenders to feed their families,” the report said.
“You can live on a small amount of any type of food or fruits for months, perhaps years, but you cannot survive for long without water and you cannot grow any food or fruit without water,” Wali told Arab News, as a massive truck-mounted drill dug into the ground for water.
The government, businessmen and donors can import emergency food supplies from overseas, but not water, he said, criticizing some Afghans for wasting water when the country is suffering a drought.
“This the worst drought in the past five decades. People have been badly affected,” Abdul Ghafour Malekzai, Badghi’s governor, told Arab News.
“People were able to have access to water a few years back by digging a well 20 meters, now you need to dig 120 meters to get some water,” he said.
The calamity has affected more than two-thirds of Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands of people. Thousands of cattle have perished, and canals and streams have dried out because of lack of snow fall and less rain this year.
Afghanistan’s northern region, considered its food basket, is also badly affected.
The country’s 2018 harvest is expected to be even lower; down from 4.2 million metric tons to 3.5 million metric tons, the UN said in its report.
The population in these dry-spell-affected provinces, which are most likely to need support in nutrition and food security, water and sanitation, emergency shelter and non-food items, it said.
The Afghan government launched a $100 million appeal in mid-April for immediate livestock protection for an initial two months of fodder/feed support and an overall demand of $550 million for 10 months’ fodder/feed support throughout the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.
“The situation for those who have already been displaced by drought and conflict is dire. Many lack access to safe drinking water, shelter or adequate sanitation facilities and diseases such as diarrohea, as well as malnutrition, are widespread among drought-induced IDPs,” the UN report said.
Local authorities have begun emergency food and water distribution with the help of NGOs and the UN in some parts, aiming to prevent the flight of more locals.


Tension builds in row over women’s entry into Hindu temple in Kerala

In this file photo taken on October 18, 2018 Indian Hindu devotees are pictured at the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala in the southern state of Kerala. (AFP)
Updated 55 min 50 sec ago
0

Tension builds in row over women’s entry into Hindu temple in Kerala

  • Hindu women demand their right of religious freedom as 41-day festival approaches
  • Kerala polarized over female entry into the hilltop temple

NEW DELHI: Tension in the air as Sabarimala Hilltop temple in the South Indian state of Kerala is being prepared to open on Nov. 17 for a 41-day Hindu festival.
The tension pertains to the entry of females between the ages of 10 to 50 into the ancient temple of Ayyappa, a deity who devotees believe is celibate and abhors the entry into the temple of women of marriageable age.
The Indian Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment in the last week of September, laid down a rule that bars the entry of young women into the temple. This led to a severe protest across the state, with women being stopped forcefully from entering the temple.
Last month, when the temple opened for six days, at least 12 women tried to enter the hillside temple but a violent crowd blocked their passage, with police looking helpless. At least 560 women in the barred age group have enrolled for the annual pilgrimage that starts in less than a week.
“We are taking all kinds of steps to see that devotees can pay their obeisance to the deity in a peaceful manner,” S. Sreejith, the Kerala inspector general of police, told Arab News.

Political mileage
Before coming to the temple, devotees observe celibacy for 41 days and avoid all kinds of meat and alcohol. They also don black robes for the period.
“The soul of any temple is the deity inside. The deity Aayyappa is a bachelor and that’s why the entry of young women is regulated in the temple,” says Rahul Easwar, a Hindu right-wing activist with close links to the Sabarimala temple.
Talking to Arab News, Easwar said: “We will never say anything against the Supreme Court. We are fighting for our rights to believe and our rights to have our own faith.”
However, women rights activist Kavita Krishnan claimed that “the entire controversy is clearly politically manufactured by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”
The BJP is looking for political mileage in Kerala — the state where it is a small marginal player,” added Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association.
She pointed out that “the entire debate is concocted. It is well known that women’s entry was allowed until the 1990s, and it was stopped upon a court order. The Supreme Court order has only undone that order.”
The local government of Kerala, a coalition of communist parties, supports women’s entry into the temple.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a news conference on Saturday, said: “Opposition to changes in customs is quite natural. But there is no going back. Toilets, bathing facilities and accommodation facilities at Nilakkal will be set up for women devotees. The current crisis is temporary.”
K. Surendran of the BJP, however, said: “This is a matter of belief and the court should not interfere. Why does the court not interfere in the affairs of other minority religions?”
The BJP spokesperson in Kerala told Arab News: “The women who want to enter the temple are not devotees but activists. They are not believers.
“The local government is trying to polarize the issue by supporting women’s entry because it wants to gain the support of other religious minorities,” added Surendran.
Sandhya Acharya, a woman devotee who has registered to go to the Sabarimala temple, told Arab News that there is an “attempt to deny entry to women by calling them activists.
“Why should there be discrimination in the house of God in the name of gender?” she asked.
Rajesh Krishnan, a Kerala-based activist and intellectual, said: “The whole issue has polarized the society in Kerala. The issue has become all the more vicious after the BJP entered the debate and saw it as an opportunity to win over the people and make an entry into the southern Indian state.”
Around 42 review petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court and Tuesday the Apex court will decide whether it should revisit its judgment or not.