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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Afghans struggle in face of drought
By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Kabul

Deh Sabz village near Kabul
Deh Sabz is now arid and dusty

Deh Sabz, in the local Dari language, means "green village".

But this year Deh Sabz, near Kabul, like much of Afghanistan, is dusty and brown.

The river beds are dry and crops are failing since the winter snows, and then the spring rains, were lighter than expected.

"It's a drought. Yes we can get some water from our well, but it's not enough," explains Zahir.

He uses a generator to pump water into irrigation channels that keep at least a handful of his melon fields watered.

But the cost of diesel is high, and Zahir complains he is only just breaking even.

'Water ran out'

The drought is also affecting animals. In Kabul's main livestock market, where cattle, sheep, buffalo and camels are for sale, the traders say prices are falling.

Zahir, farmer
Zahir's melon farm near Kabul is suffering

They say many herders and shepherds are choosing to sell their beasts now, rather than wait for their fodder to run out.

Sher Shah was too late: "Three of my cows died. I've only got two left. The water ran out, and so did the grass."

What makes things harder is that Afghanistan has only just recovered from a devastating seven-year drought.

Now the United Nations warns that this year's drought could wipe out the food stocks of 2.5 million Afghans.

That is on top of the 6.5 million the World Food Programme estimates were already at risk of hunger.

Many of the worst-hit regions are in the south.

In Zabul province for example, hundreds of families have abandoned their villages after their water supplies ran out.

"It's a hard drought, there is no water, our crops and gardens have dried. Families have moved to towns as there is nothing in our own villages due to drought," says Wali Muhammed, who recently moved to the provincial capital, Qalat.

"Our irrigation tunnels have dried - we have no water and no crops," a landowner, Kareemullah, said.

"We appeal to the government to help us dig new channels and build new dams."

Poppies

But helping people in southern Afghanistan is difficult, since that is where violence has escalated in recent months, as Taleban insurgents battle US-led and Afghan forces.

According to Mullah Abdul Salaam Rocketi, a former Taleban commander and now an MP for Zabul, the militants destroy or block government aid supplies.

The drought is another blow to the poor farmers in the rural areas
Saed Azam,
Counter-Narcotics Ministry

"Because of the insecurity the government and NGOs cannot get help to these areas," he said. "They are trying to solve the situation, but they don't know how."

Mullah Rocketi, who was given his name for being so good at firing rockets at Soviet planes, says government corruption is also part of the problem.

"The local officials are just out for themselves. They don't help other people. They put the aid money in their own pockets," he said.

For now, most people do have food, but the UN warns that stocks could run out by the winter.

What is at stake is not only the well-being of millions of people, but also the government's fight against the drugs trade and poppy cultivation - which in turn funds the insurgency.

"The drought is another blow to the poor farmers in the rural areas, and of course it could be one of the reasons driving the Afghan population to derive their livelihoods from poppies" Saed Azam, director of communications at the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics explained.

Poppies grow well in dry conditions and can earn the farmers a much higher living than other crops. "It's really sad," Mr Azam said.




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