2.6 million Afghans at risk of hunger from drought
Last Updated: Saturday, December 03, 2011, 16:27
Mazar-e-Sharif : Zara, an Afghan mother of seven, doesn't know what to tell her children when they ask about dinner.

"I simply tell them that we must wait until their father gets home to see if he's going to bring anything," she said, speaking from under a dusty blue burqa covering her from head to toe.

Zara, who uses just one name, is one of an estimated 2.6 million Afghans facing food shortages after one of the worst droughts to strike northern Afghanistan in a decade, according to Afghan officials and aid agencies.

Already living in poverty in a country at war, many have been left destitute by the drought, which has affected 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, all in the north.

Wells have dried up. Hundreds of children have been treated for malnutrition. Families are selling their animals at below-market prices. People are moving to cities to try to find food, water, work and, in some cases, a refuge from the fighting.

The Afghan government and aid agencies are racing to help them before snow blocks access to remote areas.

Rahmatullah Zahid, disaster coordinator in Balkh province, which has been hard-hit by the drought, said he is not worried yet about people starving to death, but he wonders how people will survive the winter, especially in remote areas.

"If the weather gets very, very cold in the remote areas and if the aid doesn't come, those families will be in danger of starvation," he said.

Beyond the relief effort, aid officials are trying to figure out how to end a vicious cycle of drought, drought relief and drought again in an area of the country that has suffered water and food shortages in eight of the past 11 years. Instead of trying to cultivate chronically dry land, perhaps farmers could grow almonds or grapes, which require less water than wheat, or industry could be lured to the area to extract its prevalent gas and oil.

Zara and her family moved to Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, so her husband, whose crops dried up, might find work as a day laborer.

She and hundreds of others who fled the rugged Alburz Mountains in the province gathered last week in a dirt lot in Mazar-e-Sharif to receive large canvas bags of kitchen supplies, blankets, lamps and other items, including a phone card. The aid was distributed by the Norwegian Refugee Council.


First Published: Saturday, December 03, 2011, 14:31

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