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 says Afghan peace talks “complex" amid hopes for breakthrough

Updated 5 min 12 sec ago
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Pakistan says Afghan peace talks “complex" amid hopes for breakthrough

  • Taliban deny meeting US special envoy in Islamabad
  • After initial flurry of meetings, dialogue now stalled

ISLAMABAD, KABUL: US-backed peace talks with the Afghan Taliban are part of a "complex process," Pakistan's foreign office spokesman said on Saturday, as insurgents rejected reports they were prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad. 
Since their last meeting in Abu Dhabi in December, dialogue between the US and the Taliban to find a negotiated settlement to an 18-year-long war in Afghanistan has largely stalled, particularly over the US insistence that insurgents talk directly with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. 
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with the Kabul government which they see as an illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime, and consider their main adversary to be the US, which invaded the country in 2001 and toppled their rule. 
“It [negotiations] is a complex process. It isn’t a casual thing and cannot be decided in a meeting or two,” Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal told Arab News on Saturday, calling the peace talks “a sensitive issue that needs to be handled carefully.”
Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Thursday to pursue diplomatic efforts to push forward talks with the Afghan Taliban and met with top civilian and military leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“I look forward to concrete progress,” Khalilzad tweeted after his meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister, adding that Pakistan had assured him of support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
U.S. and Afghan officials have long been pushing Pakistan to lean on Taliban leaders, who they say are based inside Pakistan, to bring them to the table for talks. Pakistani officials deny offering safe havens to the Afghan Taliban and say their influence on the group has waned over the years.
“Pakistan fully supports the process and is playing its role for a negotiated settlement,” the foreign office spokesman said. “Negotiations are underway and nothing can be ruled out at this stage.” 
Khalilzad has held at least three rounds of talks with the Taliban in recent months, with the last round taking place in the United Arab Emirates in December, in the presence of representatives from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
In a statement sent to media, the Afghan Taliban rejected Pakistani media reports that Taliban officials had met with Khalilzad in Islamabad.
“The rumors about a meeting between representatives of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) with American envoy Khalilzad in Islamabad are not true,” Zabihullah Mujahid said. 
A Taliban leader told Reuters peace talks with the US delegation could resume if a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders were the only issues discussed. 
“The Taliban seem unwilling to revive talks with the US until a schedule of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is given to them,” Taliban affairs expert Rahimullah Yousufzai said. “Pakistan is using its influence, but nothing concrete is achieved so far.”
Indeed, to avoid pressure from Pakistan, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban have said they prefer to hold talks with the U.S. envoy in Qatar where the Taliban have had an office for years.
For now, talks have stalled and there is no clarity on when they will be resumed.  
"Peace efforts have indeed run into some difficulties, perhaps because the initial facilitating and confidence building steps were burdened by over-enthusiastic demands and unrealistic expectations," said Omar Zakhilwal, a former Afghan ambassador to Islamabad. "Suspicions and rivalries among regional stakeholders have also not helped."