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
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
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