Afghans grapple with the worst drought in decades

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

Afghans grapple with the worst drought in decades

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.


UK’s newest carrier joins fight against Daesh, stirs Russian interest

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Updated 22 June 2021

UK’s newest carrier joins fight against Daesh, stirs Russian interest

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth, a 65,000-ton carrier, has a squadron of the cutting-edge F-35 jet and its support ships include the US destroyer The Sullivans
  • The carrier group is supporting the UK's missions to wipe out the remnants of Daesh in Iraq as the US focuses on its withdrawal from Afghanistan

EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA: Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is helping to take on the “lion’s share” of operations against the Daesh (Islamic State) group in Iraq, UK naval commanders said. It has also piqued the interest of Russian warplanes, who try to keep tabs on its cutting-edge F-35 jet in a “cat-and-mouse” game with British and US pilots.
Speaking aboard the 65,000-ton carrier on its first-ever deployment, Commodore Steve Moorhouse said the UK is carrying out most of the missions to wipe out the remnants of Daesh in Iraq as the US focuses on its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“At the moment, we’re taking on the lion’s share of that operation over Iraq, which is a fantastic, say, feather in our cap. But an achievement that ‘A’, we’re trusted and ‘B’, that we’re able to do that,” Moorhouse told reporters Sunday.
It’s the first time that a UK aircraft carrier is supporting live military operations on the ground in over two decades, projecting British military power on a global scale. Moorhouse said the carrier offers the UK flexibility in how to conduct military operations abroad and “keeps those that wish to cause us harm ... on their toes.”
He said the eastern Mediterranean has become more “congested and contested” over the last decade in light of the heavier Russian military presence in Syria, which is resulting in regular encounters with Russian ships and warplanes.

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

“We’re rubbing up against Russian activity, not in a you know, in a dangerous or aggressive manner, but you’ve just got other people out here playing in what is a fixed piece of water and airspace,” said Moorhouse, adding that a Russian warship has come within 10 kilometers (16 miles) of the carrier.
The commodore insisted that Russian, British and US pilots have a “healthy respect for one another” and their conduct has been “absolutely professional” since the aircraft carrier started anti-IS operations on June 18.
“But there is a reality when you buy yourself a fifth-generation aircraft carrier and you take it around the world ... people are interested in it,” he added.
Captain James Blackmore, who commands the eight British F-35 jets and the 10 helicopters aboard the carrier, said UK and Russian pilots have come within “visual distance” of each other.
“It’s that cat-and-mouse posturing, it’s what we expect in this region of world. And as you can imagine, it’s the first time for F-35s into the eastern Mediterranean,” said Blackmore. “So, of course Russia wants to look at what they’re like, they want to look at what our carriers are like.”
The state-of-the art F-35, armed with air-to-air missiles and laser-guided bombs, is being used over Iraq to look for other aircraft or unmanned drones, support troops on the ground as well as to carry out surveillance with its sophisticated sensor and radar systems.
“It’s a fifth-generation aircraft with a hugely, hugely capable radar and sensor suite, and that’s what it brings. So it’s the eyes and ears that it’s offering out there,” said Moorhouse.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth and its support ships, which include the US destroyer The Sullivans, will remain in the eastern Mediterranean for two to three weeks before moving through the Suez Canal to continue with a 7 1/2 -month deployment to India, South Korea and Japan.
The carrier also has 10 US F-35 jets from the Marine Corps’ Fighter Attack Squadron 211 aboard that carry out operations under British command.


Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century
Zsolt Balla, State Rabbi of Saxony, stands in the synagogue in Leipzig, Germany, Monday June 21, 2021, after his induction into the office of Military Rabbi of the Armed Forces. (AP)
Updated 22 June 2021

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century
  • The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future

BERLIN: The German military got its first rabbi in over a century Monday, with the inauguration to the post of Hungarian-born Zsolt Balla at a synagogue in Leipzig.
The German government in 2019 approved a proposal by the Central Council of Jews to restore religious counseling for Jews serving in the armed forces.
“This was unthinkable for decades and still can’t be taken for granted,” the head of the Central Council, Josef Schuster, said. “That’s why we have all reason to be happy and grateful today.”
During World War I, many Jews fought for Germany and dozens of rabbis are known to have performed pastoral work in the military. After Adolf Hitler’ came to power in 1933, the Nazis excluded Jews from all spheres of public life, later murdering millions in the Holocaust.
Schuster said Balla would ensure Jewish soldiers can serve in the military in line with their religious rules, and also teach non-Jewish soldiers about Judaism’s traditions and holy days, thereby helping reduce prejudice.
The 42-year-old rabbi, who was ordained in 2009, said he felt “incredibly gratitude to be allowed to live in a country that faces its past but has also resolved to go forward and actively make the world better.”
According to German news agency dpa, there are about 300 Jews in Germany’s 180,000-strong Bundeswehr. About half of the country’s military belong to a Christian denomination, while 3,000 are Muslim.
The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future.


Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Updated 22 June 2021

Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
  • Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month
  • The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use

LONDON: Three pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on Monday after forcing their way into a factory they claim makes components for the Israeli military.
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls.
The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use.
Greater Manchester Police said in a statement that officers were called to Greenacres Road, Oldham, at about 6:40 a.m. following reports of a protest.

Three men were arrested and remain in custody, police said.
Huda Ammori, co-founder of Palestine Action, told Arab News that it was hoped the men would be released within 24 hours.
She said that the activists wanted to cause further disruption to Elbit Systems.
“Activists have gone inside before, but not caused significant damage to the machinery. This is the first time it has been done on this scale, so it is definitely an escalation in terms of our activism and our campaign against Elbit Systems’ operations here in the UK,” she said.
Ammori claimed that people were growing frustrated with the UK government’s response to Israel’s actions, especially following the 11-day conflict that rocked Gaza in May.
The UK Parliament held a debate to discuss a petition signed by over 385,000 people calling for sanctions on Israel. Politicians from both sides of the aisle urged the government to push forward the two-state solution by recognizing the state of Palestine, but most MPs who took part in the debate rejected the idea of sanctions against Israel.

Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month.
“The government has failed to take action, our parliamentarians have failed and protests have been ignored, and when everything else fails, the only tool we have left is to take the power back into our own hands, and expose exactly what Israel’s arms companies are doing and building in UK towns and cities,” Ammori said.
A North West Ambulance Service spokesman said that four people were treated for minor injuries.


Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
Updated 21 June 2021

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
  • Ghani, Abdullah expected to discuss stalled peace process, bilateral ties with US

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, will travel to the US later this week for their first meeting with President Joe Biden since he assumed office, officials said.

“The issues that will be discussed at the meeting will be bilateral ties and the peace process,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah, told Arab News.

The meeting on Friday comes amid a phased withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, which began on May 1 and is scheduled to finish by September 11 in line with Biden’s order to end the “forever war.”

It follows a deadlock in US-sponsored peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul, and the Taliban’s steady victories on the battlefield in various parts of Afghanistan in recent weeks.

In a Twitter post on Monday, Abdullah said that he was “looking for constructive meetings and discussions on US-Afghan relations, and establishing a just and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Ghani’s office could not confirm what the president expected to achieve from the talks.

However, Fatima Morchal, a spokeswoman for Ghani, told Arab News that he “would exchange views on the continuation of bilateral cooperation.”

The visit follows a March proposal by Washington for Ghani and Abdullah to form a new administration that would include the Taliban, amid a warning that the insurgent group would make rapid territorial gains once all foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

Ghani has long expressed his hope that Biden would review the troop withdrawal process, which is based on a controversial deal signed between the former US administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

He also freed thousands of Taliban inmates — under pressure from former president Donald Trump — but vehemently rejected the idea of a new coalition government, vowing to pass the baton to the next administration following elections.

“In recent months, Ghani has pushed for a one-on-one audience with Biden to persuade him to keep some troops in Afghanistan,” an anonymous official told Arab News.

However, the Afghan president’s hopes were dashed on Sunday when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden “looks forward to welcoming” the Afghan leaders and reassuring them of US diplomatic, economic and humanitarian support for the turmoil-hit country as the drawdown continues.

“The visit by President Ghani and Abdullah will highlight the enduring partnership between the US and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues,” she added.

Psaki further emphasized that Washington “continues to fully support the ongoing peace process and encourages all Afghan parties to participate meaningfully in negotiations to bring an end to the conflict.”

However, analysts have downplayed the importance of the upcoming meeting, warning that Washington is in favor of all-inclusive peace talks and will avoid solely backing Ghani’s government.

“This time, the Americans will make it clear to Ghani that he would lose US support if he pursues anti-peace agendas (failure to hand over power to an interim government based on intra-Afghan talks),” Abdul Satar Saadat, Ghani’s former legal adviser, told Arab News.

“The government is making propaganda about the visit, calling it as the start of a new chapter, but this meeting will be Ghani’s last meeting with Biden,” he added.

Ahmad Samin, a former World Bank adviser, agreed, adding that the president’s meeting with Biden will not “strengthen Ghani’s political image.”

“It is crystal clear that Ghani is not considered an ally of the US,” he told Arab News.

Samin further cited an example of a speech where Biden misspelled Ghani’s name as “Kayani,” a former army chief of Pakistan, to explain how “important” the Afghan president was to his US counterpart.

The Afghan visit comes amid a series of territorial gains by the Taliban in various regions of Afghanistan, including in the northern and northeastern areas, where they previously failed to establish a stronghold during their five-year rule, which ended with the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

The insurgents have captured dozens of districts in recent weeks, with both sides suffering heavy casualties, even as Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the country’s protracted conflict.

The battlefield setbacks prompted Ghani to replace his security chiefs, including the head of the army, amid criticism that a lack of coordination was the reason for Taliban advances and a spike in casualties among government forces.

Following his appointment on Saturday, Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi called on Afghans to “cooperate with the troops in the war against advancing Taliban forces.”

Mohammadi, who fought under the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud during the civil wars in the 1990s, replaced Asadullah Khalid, who held the position since 2018.


Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
Updated 21 June 2021

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
  • Duterte pushes for Filipino workers to be part of Kingdom’s ‘visionary’ reform program

MANILA: The Philippines and Saudi Arabia have agreed to increase cooperation on labor reforms and ensure the well-being of over 800,000 Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom.

The subject was discussed during a meeting on Sunday between President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy and presidential assistant on foreign affairs, Robert Borje, and Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi.

Philippines Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sara Lou Arriola, and Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos were also part of the discussions.

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary for Global Media Affairs J.V. Arcena told Arab News on Monday that Borje and Al-Rajhi highlighted the two nations’ commitment to “significant advancements in labor reform and fair migration.”

Borje told Al-Rajhi that Duterte welcomed Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative (LRI), introduced in March, “as a significant step toward addressing issues with the existing sponsorship system” in the Kingdom.  

He also expressed confidence that the initiative will raise productivity and competitiveness of the labor market in the Kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia’s LRI is commendable, and President Duterte hopes Filipino household workers will be included in the reform initiative,” Borje said.

He emphasized Manila’s commitment to work with the Saudi government in implementing the labor reforms, especially to advance the rights and welfare of migrant workers. At the same time, Borje sought the Saudi official’s support for other initiatives to support Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom.

These include a repatriation program for distressed OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to strengthen the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate-General in Jeddah, and to make consular services more accessible to Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

Borje underscored the need to address fundamental issues of all migrant workers in the Kingdom, such as harnessing technology to improve access to labor sector services, protection of wages, and automation of recruitment processes.

“Both sides are looking forward to the Joint Commission Meeting and also showed eagerness to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on labor soon, based on the LRI reforms that the Saudi government has done,” the statement said.

It added that Riyadh and Manila “hope to see the convening of a technical working group on the details of the MOU on labor.”

Describing the Saudi government’s reforms on migrants’ rights as “bold and visionary,” Borje aired his optimism that the Philippine-Saudi relations would “continue to grow beyond labor cooperation,” such as in the trade and investment sectors.

The Philippines is willing to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on a multi-dimensional partnership, in line with Duterte’s vision, he said.

Borje’s meeting with Al-Rajhi was part of the Philippine delegation’s five-day visit to Saudi Arabia, anchored on the president’s commitment to protect the rights and promote the welfare of OFWs.

According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the two officials also discussed “issues of common interest,” following which Saudi King Salman received a written letter from Duterte which dealt with relations between Riyadh and Manila, and ways to support and enhance them in various fields.

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia marked 50 years of diplomatic ties in 2019, with Duterte congratulating King Salman for the Kingdom’s “landmark” LRO, which, among other benefits, abolished the kafala system for migrant workers last year.

In a phone call with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in May, Duterte renewed the Philippines’ commitment to strengthen bilateral and trade ties and intensify efforts to ensure migrant workers’ rights.

He also conveyed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s free COVID-19 vaccinations for Filipinos and the financial assistance extended to the Philippine health sector during outgoing Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Bussairy’s farewell event in the Malacanang last week.

Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the largest number of any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate. About half work as domestic laborers, while others are employed in the Kingdom’s construction, outsourcing and healthcare sectors.