Increasing violence in Afghanistan has overshadowed hardship caused by drought. Christian Aid's Anjali Kwatra writes about the problem in the western province of Herat.
In a graveyard on a hill overlooking the village of Sya Kamarak in
western Afghanistan, villagers gathered last week for the funerals of
three young children who died of hunger.
They died on the same day from
malnutrition caused by a devastating drought that has hit western,
northern and southern Afghanistan.
There were no doctors' reports to confirm the cause of death - the parents
were too poor to take them to the clinic which is one day's walk away.
Jan Bibi, 40, said she had been feeding her three-month-old daughter
Nazia with just boiled water and sugar because she had nothing else.
"My baby died because of inadequate food. I wanted to breastfeed her but
I was not producing enough milk."
Jan Bibi's surviving twin daughter Merzia is the size of a newborn
rather than a three-month old and cries continually for food.
"I am worried about my baby," said Jan Bibi. "The future is dark because
we don't have food or water or fuel for heating. We have to walk for
four hours to get to the nearest fresh water - we don't know how we will survive."
Failed crops turn to stocks for burning (Photos: Christian Aid)
The villagers say 50 children have died so far this year - a far higher
number than usual - because of the drought.
Almost all the 300 families in remote Sya Kamarak, which is a day's
drive along bumpy tracks from the capital of the province, Herat city, live off the land.. Most lost all their wheat harvest when the rains failed in April and
A Christian Aid assessment of the drought in five northern and western
provinces showed that farmers lost 80-100% of their
crops in the worst affected areas and water sources in many villages had
The UN says 1.9 million people are at risk. The World Food Programme says it has only received one third of the funds it needs to help the drought victims.
In the meantime people are surviving on limited supplies of flour from
last year and eating just boiled potatoes, meagre supplies of bread and
tea to fill their stomachs. As winter approaches many villages in more
remote areas will get cut off by snow and aid will not be able to get
Not only is food scarce, but each day children as young as six are sent
to collect water from taps or wells up to three hours away.
Death due to starvation is on the rise among children
say that droughts used to occur every 15 to 20 years, but the last
drought finished just two years ago. They also say that winters are not
as cold as they used to be and summers are hotter. Some experts
attribute these changing weather patterns to climate change.
The drought has also hit hard in the south of the country where British
troops are fighting an insurgency. The government has said that 20,000
families have been displaced in the south because of a combination of
fighting and drought.
Poppies for food
Although the west of the country is not a Taleban stronghold, many of
the poor farmers said they could understand why people would sign up to
fight when they were desperately poor.
Attalullah, 40, was one of the fathers who buried their children. Sitting in his two-room mud hut, he explained their situation as his
wife Rabia wept for their daughter Uzraa, who was two.
"We have just a few kilograms of flour left to make bread with and we
spend all day collecting twigs to use for fuel for cooking and heating.
If anyone will provide us with a means of livelihood then we would
rather join them rather than starve to death. "
Many villagers said the international community
was so focussed on the insurgency, that those suffering from the drought
were being forgotten.
"The world does not know that people in Afghanistan are only thinking
about what they can find to eat, not about fighting," said Ramazan, 40,
a farmer who also lost all his crop.
Others said they would consider growing poppies which grow well in dry
climates just to earn enough to buy food.
Mullah Niaz, 80, appealed to the international community to help farmers
affected by the drought.
"There are many families in this village who don't know where they will
get their next meal from. They are eating just bread and relying on the
charity of better off neighbours from day to day. We are expecting that
more people will die unless we get help. We need food, water, medicines
and fodder for our animals. We need help now."