Severe Drought Adds to Afghanistan’s Woes, Endangering Millions as Economy Collapses

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“Our children are crying because there is nothing to eat,” said Niamatullah.

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This year’s deep drought is exacerbating the economic crisis that deepened when the Taliban overthrew the previous Afghan government, forcing the US and others to amass nearly $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets and a large amount Inspired to leave the country’s professionals.

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Now water scarcity is reducing the income of the farmers and increasing the food bills for the people in the cities. The United Nations estimates that the drought threatens the livelihoods of 9 million Afghans and is affecting 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the difficult conditions have already put 14 million people – more than a third of the Afghan population – in a food security crisis. The FAO said Afghanistan’s current crop is expected to be 15% below average due to the drought.

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“This is the worst drought in 35-36 years,” said Richard Trenchard, FAO’s country director for Afghanistan. “Many public institutions, which provide public safety net, have ceased to function,” following the Taliban takeover, he said. “Farmers have little to fall back on.”

Afghanistan is heavily dependent on livelihoods sensitive to climate fluctuations, such as rainfed agriculture and animal husbandry. Poor villagers often lack the capital and technology to switch to more modern and resilient farming methods. Climate change stands to increase the burden.

Samim Hoshmand, former top climate negotiator for Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, said that about 12% of Afghanistan’s land is suitable for agriculture, but about 80% of the population depends on agriculture to survive.

“If the drought continues, and political instability continues, the future will be a disaster,” Mr. Hoshmand said.

Afghanistan’s new Taliban government has yet to offer a plan on how to create jobs or provide aid for a population deeply mired in poverty. Afghan farmers said anger over the economic crisis could turn into unrest.

“We will wait for six months. If things do not improve, we will stand against the Taliban,” said Mohammad Amir, a 45-year-old farmer from Dasht-e-Top, an arid plain in Wardak province west of Kabul. The region used to be famous for its sweet, crunchy apples—but has dried up. There is no trace of water in a wide river flowing along the highway. Farmers say they haven’t seen snow in 20 years.

Drought affects more than just agriculture. The Kazaki Dam in Helmand was built in the 1950s as part of a US initiative based at the Tennessee Valley Authority to counter Soviet influence in Afghanistan through development works.

The Helmand Valley Authority, as it was called, aimed to promote irrigation and agricultural land development along the Helmand and Argandab rivers. The US later converted Kazaki into a hydroelectric power station in the 1970s, a project that was suspended with the 1979 Soviet invasion.

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In 2004, the US restarted the project and refurbished two turbines to bring power to southern Afghanistan and drive out the Taliban with the allure of government-backed development. In 2008, most British soldiers carried pieces for a third, 220-ton turbine on trucks in some of the country’s most dangerous areas, but the equipment sat unattended for a decade until it was installed in 2019.

Now, due to the low water level, Kazaki produces 6 MW of electricity, which is much less than the 51 MW capacity, according to Tufan Ozkag, program manager of Turkey’s 77 Insat Construction Company, which led the renovation in Kazaki.

The water shortage has led to conflict in the past with neighboring Iran, which receives water from the Helmand River after flowing through Kazaki and across the border.

Iran accused Afghanistan of appropriating more than what was required under the 1973 water treaty between the two countries. Security officials in the now toppled Afghan government have accused Iran of instigating the Taliban to attack a dam project under construction in Nimruz province to boost agriculture and irrigation, but Iran fears the water will run off. and the Hamoun wetlands will dry up on their side of the border.

Climate change “could reduce critical freshwater flows across Afghanistan’s borders, potentially increasing tensions with its neighbors,” said Oli Brown, senior research associate at the Berlin-based environmental think tank Adelphi and on Afghanistan. Author of the Climate Risk Brief. It could also accelerate migration, he said, “and it could encourage farmers to grow opium in some areas.” Opium poppy requires less water than other crops and can be more profitable.

In Dasht-e-Top in Vardak province, farmers complained that they did not have wells, and only a few prosperous farmers could afford solar panels for irrigation.

On one of those solar-paneled farms, Rahima Vardak’s son now picks tomatoes for $3 a day, making it the family’s only income. Ms Vardak, a farmer in her 50s, said she and her husband used to grow potatoes, onions and carrots on their own land, but now their fields have dried up. Dead sticks crumpled under his feet as he walked among rows of dried apple trees.

“We could irrigate a garden or two until two years ago,” Ms Vardak said. Since then, he lamented, the region’s traditional system of underground irrigation tunnels has been completely dry.

“How can our sons be farmers? They have to do something else,” said Mohammed Omar Jalalzai, Ms Vardak’s husband of 70, as he stood among his withered apricot trees.

write to Hear Engel Rasmussen at [email protected]

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