Last year, Afghanistan faced a severe drought. Because of this, and deteriorating security, 35 year-old Belges, her husband and five children left everything behind. For many drought victims, the cold months have shown no improvement in their regions of origin. 2019 thus starts with little hope.

By Zohal Nasrat

“Moqor was not safe and there was no water.”

Belqes, a 35 year-old woman from Moqor village in the province of Badghis in the western part of Afghanistan, was displaced from her home in summer of 2018, together with her husband and five children, all between the ages of 5 and 17 years old.

They carried whatever they could and left for the sake of finding something to eat and drink.

Their main source of income in Moqor village came from harvesting wheat, but the drought and the ongoing conflict between government forces and oppositions groups forced them to leave their home.

“Our income is through agriculture, but this year we could not even find water to drink and we could not receive even 50 Afs (66 cents) for selling our harvest, so we moved here,” says Belges.

She and her family are staying in an informal settlement in Kharistan village of Badghis province, together with 4,630 families who are also displaced from several other villages: Ab Kamari, Moqor, Jowand, Ghormach, BalaMorghab, Qades, and Qalayenaw.

Forced to sell livestock

Belqes explains: ”We have faced insecurity before, but it is the first time that we experienced drought.”

In the past people from the Belges’ area were moving to nearby places due to conflicts, and after one or two months they moved back.

“But now we don’t want to go back, because we do not even have water to drink. At least we have water to drink here, no matter if we find some bread to eat or not”, Belges adds, “We have left everything behind. We do not have anything to wear and the weather is getting cold here. We neither have coats nor blankets to cover ourselves at night”.

In addition, she explains that the people of the Moqor village who were displaced sold their livestock because they had nothing to feed them: “We had sheep at the beginning of the year, but every one of us sold them because we did not have anything to feed to them. We also had donkeys which we used to transport goods from the bazaar to home, but since we cannot feed them and no one wanted to buy the donkeys, we have left them in the fields.”

Safe water, baths and latrines

Mohammad Jamal Bawar, Emergency WASH Manager of DACAAR, explains that the displaced families got access to safe drinking water – 10 liters per person everyday.

“At first, they didn’t have good quality water to drink and they were receiving water from the host community and also from a dug well and its water quality was salty. But once we reached there, we provided them with good quality water, baths and latrines and also provided hygiene education, including hygiene kits,” the WASH Manager clarifies.

Belqes and her family have been satisfied with the support from DACAAR:

“We received water every day and had water to drink.”

No long-term solutions

DACAAR director, John Morse is very satisfied with DACAAR’s drought intervention in late 2018, but the emergency programme only lasted for 60 days.

“When the cold months moved in, there was no improvement of the situation in the regions of origins. Now, this has become a protracted problem and these people are starting 2019 with little hope,.” John Morse says.

It has been difficult for DACAAR to secure continuous support even though the drought victims still face many challenges.

“These people are still very vulnerable. Help following the humanitarian response is not in place and long-term solutions are not available,” the director continues.

DACAAR is working to secure more funding for the drought victims.

The worst drought in a lifetime

UNOCHA, UN’s response to complex emergencies and natural disasters, is very blunt in its 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Afghanistan.

The report states: “Drought compounds the misery of people blighted by conflict and poverty Afghanistan’s susceptibility to recurrent, extreme climatic shocks has been reinforced in 2018 with what is being described by many locally as the worst drought in a lifetime.”

The drought has effected 22 out of Afghanistan’s 33 provinces and “has had a particularly devastating effect on rural populations, many of whom are dependent on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. Across the country, farming families have reportedly depleted their assets selling their livestock (often at a loss of 20-30 per cent) in order to meet their basic needs before the condition of their animals completely deteriorates.”

Farmers are reducing their planting areas to conserve water and consuming the next planting season’s seeds as a result of crop failure.

13.5 million Afghans are food insecure

In November 2018, it was estimated that 13.5 million people in Afghanistan are facing ‘Crisis or worse’ levels of food insecurity, of which 3.6 million are facing ‘Emergency’ levels nationwide.

The impact of the drought on WASH and health has also been severe. Water levels across the country has dropped 62 per cent during 2018. This has resulted in” progressively fewer protected water sources available, forcing households to rely on unsafe water sources, potentially exposing them to illness.”

Read the full UNOCHA report here

Facts: Drought in Western Region

According to UNOCHA, in the first half of September 2018, an estimated 120,000 people have been displaced from rural areas of Badghis to Qala-e-Naw as a result of drought.

An estimated 253,600 people are currently displaced from drought affected areas across the Western Region. A further 28,000 people displaced by the drought have returned to their homes in Moqor district of Badghis, upon assurances of food distributions in their home villages.

Existing response capacity at more than a dozen sites in Qala-e-Naw and its surroundings is limited: around 42,000 people have insufficient access to safe drinking water and over 130,000 people have no access to sanitation facilities with people living in makeshift shelters.

Dagmar Ruehrig and Jan Kjær contributed to the story