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The drought is affecting 160 villages and has prompted a call from aid agencies for international donors to provide urgently needed funding
One of Afghanistan’s largest and most remote tribal regions is suffering the worst drought in decades, after an unusually dry and summer season, threatening 1.1 million people.
The drought is affecting 160 villages in Helmand province, putting more than 900,000 people at risk of starvation, causing 85 deaths so far, according to the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), and has prompted a call from aid agencies for international donors to provide urgently needed funding.
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“Afghanistan has been suffering from drought for several years, and those affected had not received any aid assistance,” said Javed Shirim, ARCS chief of operations in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan has been receiving its normal monsoon season, but the weather conditions are one of the worst since the government started collecting its data nearly 30 years ago.”
Helmand is the poorest and most resource-strapped province in Afghanistan. The province is Afghanistan’s most strategically important, and attempts to reduce dependence on aid have been hampered by severe insecurity.
Only one in five civilians in Helmand is literate, making it a natural focus for militaries, especially the US-led Nato coalition, but few other aid agencies have been interested in getting involved.
Mohammad Shah Paracha, a farmer in the Ganjah district of Helmand, said the drought was not affecting his home so far, but it was affecting his father-in-law’s compound.
“You can see the water level is low there, and if the dam is not filled with water we cannot access it,” Paracha said.
Until now, the Helmand drought has been affecting remote, remote districts, not Ganjah, one of the main roads in Afghanistan, which is home to more than 2 million people and an Afghan military base.
An Afghan farmer carrying a water bucket from a water well to his arable land. Photograph: Mohammed Shuja/Getty Images
Government aid agencies say they are aware of the drought. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has dispatched disaster response teams to affected districts, but has not received any international aid for it.
“The government does not have its own resources to cope with disaster situations like this,” said Atia Akbar, the head of the NDMA.
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“International donors need to support our efforts, and if aid isn’t sent quickly, the government and affected families may not have any choice but to sign for the traffickers’ food rations.”
The most recent UN figures show that just $9.9m (around $17m) in foreign donations is available for next year’s foreign aid response.
“If these donations don’t arrive, the current situation may turn out worse than the 2009 drought,” said Akbar.