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Food crisis looms as Afghanistan's drought worsens


The old men of the village have never seen such a drought. The parched soil is littered with the desiccated corpses of sheep and goats, wells 30 metres deep have run dry and dust storms obscure the otherwise relentless sun.

From Ethiopia to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the same story is repeated.

Some areas of southern Afghanistan have not had rain for three years, gradually reducing flocks, and now this year's dry has eliminated them.

In remote villages such as Chowday, the prayer beads are being counted with added fervor this year by elderly farmer Haji Maula.

"My beard is white, but I have never seen a drought like this. Camels can live for two weeks without taking water, but even they are dying," he said.

At Abu Kala, a village meeting is disrupted by a woman who bursts into the all-male circle crying: "We're hungry. Why can't somebody do something?"

On the dry bed of the Arghestan River, the men of Vam district have gathered to meet foreign aid workers, and ask whether they should abandon their homes or wait to receive aid. Aid workers would prefer them to stay, but cannot guarantee that relief will be sufficient, so tell them to decide for themselves.

The children get priority for whatever food there is - the boiled roots of the alfalfa plant were on the menu in many homes.

A survey team sent by the World Food Program (WFP) left the region this week carrying disturbing news. In parts of Kandahar and Zabol provinces, three out of four livestock animals had already died, the rain-fed wheat crop is lost and most irrigated wheat fields have failed.

Especially alarming were signs that Afghanistan's orchards, which once produced the lion's share of the world's dried fruit and nuts, are dying. If that happens, it will take years before replacement trees can bear fruit.

The appeal by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for his country to prepare for the worst drought in a century, with more than 50 million people likely to be affected, only underlined the daunting prospect of a regional crisis stretching from India's eastern state of Orissa through Pakistan's Sindh and Baluchistan provinces and beyond.

The answer to India's drought may be as close as the next monsoon rains, which begin their march north later this month.

But Afghanistan is beyond the reach of the monsoon. The next rains are not due until November, meaning no new crops before April 2001.

The WFP and non-government agencies are mobilising, but can help only those worst affected.

In Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban militia has used helicopters to deliver food and water to drought-ravaged areas.

India prides itself on handling its own crises - although external aid would undoubtedly benefit those hardest hit - but Pakistan's Baluchistan province has requested foreign help.

In the coming months the WFP expects to deliver 50,000 tonnes of wheat to about 700,000 people in Afghanistan. Some aid is being given as food for work, with projects concentrating on rebuilding the ancient "kharez" irrigation channels, destroyed by 20 years of war and neglect, and drilling new and deeper wells.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 30, 2000


WIRE:04/30/2000 01:56:00 ET Pakistan, Afghanistan wither as drought worsens ISLAMABAD, April 30 (Reuters) - Crops in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan have failed and livestock has died as a drought that has also parched neighbouring India tightens its grip, local officials and aid agencies said. Authorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan have appealed for international aid to tackle the problem, which officials say will worsen later this summer as little rain is expected.

The worst affected areas have not seen adequate rainfall for up to eight years, officials say.

International relief organisation Oxfam, after its experts had visited the worst-hit districts in Pakistan, said earlier this month that over the past three years some 90 percent of livestock had died .

Pakistani officials said almost two thirds of the country's largest, but least populated, province of Baluchistan and the Thar desert area in adjoining Sindh province had been hit by the drought, forcing people in some areas to migrate.

In Afghanistan, the worst drought in nearly three decades has hit the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Uruzgan and Nimroz, aid workers from the area said.

Large parts of western and central India, particularly Gujarat and Rathasthan states bordering Pakistan, have also been affected by severe drought, raising the spectre of acute hunger that could affect an estimated 50 million people.


A U.N. official who recently visited parched southern Afghanistan said the situation was "very serious" but not yet critical.

Some areas had lost almost all the rain-fed wheat crop, half of the irrigated crop and up to 80 percent of livestock, the official, who declined to be identified, added.

A senior government official in Baluchistan said on Friday the drought had affected about two million people out of the province's population of 6.5 million, as well as 10 million head of livestock.

Provincial Relief Commissioner Abbas Shah has called for aid worth 2.5 billion rupees ($50 million) and appealed for all national and international donors and "brotherly countries" to help.

Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement appealed earlier this month for aid from the United Nations and other agencies.

Authorities in Pakistan have been distributing food in the country's worst-hit areas for several weeks, but officials say people were migrating as wells became dry.


No exact estimate of drought-related deaths in Pakistan is available, but officials say dozens of people have died, including three children on Thursday at one village in Baluchistan's Chaghai district.

Chaghai district is the mountainous region where Pakistan conducted its May 1998 nuclear tests held in response to arch-rival India's similar blasts.

People had started migrating on a large scale from drought-hit areas in eight districts of Baluchistan, local officials said.

A World Food Programme team visited Afghanistan's Zabul and Kandahar provinces last week and saw scattered carcasses of camels, sheep and goats.

The most seriously affected Afghans are reported to be livestock owners, specially the Koochi nomads, and farmers.

Urban residents have also been affected. U.N. sources say that in the city of Kandahar an estimated 90 percent of the population relys on shallow mosque wells.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 30, 2000.

UN Warns of Pakistan, Afghan Drought

By KATHY GANNON .c The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - The United Nations on Tuesday warned of a crisis in drought-ravaged Pakistan and Afghanistan, where thousands are on the move in search of water and entire animal herds have died.

Eric de Mul, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told a news conference in Islamabad that an urgent appeal was issued Tuesday for $1.8 million for Afghanistan people.

The situation in Pakistan's Baluchistan and Sindh provinces is ``very critical,'' said Onder Yucer, the U.N. representative in Pakistan. ``We have the dislocation of people and losses of livestock,'' he said.

Most of the aid to the worst-hit areas of Pakistan has been provided by the government, but Yucer said a request for international aid is expected to go out within days.

Zakir Hussain, a representative of Pakistan's Ministry of Agriculture, said that half a million people over 2 million acres of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province suffered from a shortage of water and 2.5 million people were affected in Sindh province.

In India's western states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, the drought has affected more than 50 million people and killed thousands of cows, goats and buffaloes. Even camels have died.

In the only confirmed human death from the drought, a ticket collector died from heat stroke Friday in India at the Titlagarh train station in Orissa state, where temperatures reached 118 degrees last week.

Hundreds of thousands of people in western India have fled their homes to nearby towns, where government water tankers and trains distribute emergency supplies.

Thirty million people in nine other Indian states face water shortages, the Indian government said last week.

In Afghanistan, the people suffering most are the Koochis, or nomads, who have lost up to 80 percent to 90 percent of their herds, said Terence Barker, a spokesman for the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

``We are looking at the worst drought since 1971 in Afghanistan,'' Barker said.

De Mul of the United Nations said the ruling Taliban have relocated tens of thousands of people, mostly nomads, to areas with water, flew in helicopters loaded with water and provided trucks to move cattle to water.

``The Taliban authorities have made a very serious effort to reach out and help,'' de Mul said.

The World Food Program is feeding as many as 400,000 people and is trying to get fodder for livestock.

De Mul said the United Nations will seek international aid to Afghanistan avoid a reoccurrence of drought, including money to rebuild the irrigation infrastructure.

But the international community has been reluctant to give aid to the hard-line Taliban army, complaining about its human rights record and refusal to hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

AP-NY-05-02-00 1620EDT

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-- Martin Thompson (, May 02, 2000.

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