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
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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.


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.