Afghan Drought Puts Pressure on Food Supply

NEW YORK, New York, October 23, 2006 (ENS) - Worsening drought in Afghanistan means 1.9 million people will need food assistance 200,000 more than predicted in July - according to the United Nations and Afghan government, which launched a joint appeal for a further $43.3 million in humanitarian relief today.

The plea follows an appeal for nearly $76.4 million announced in July. Just over half of that money has been received to date.

UN officials say the initial plan must be extended through the start of the next harvest in April 2007.

"While we are grateful for the generous contributions received thus far, there is an urgent and pressing need to continue assistance to drought and conflict affected communities across Afghanistan," said Secretary-General Kofi Annan's deputy special representative, Ameerah Haq.

Haq urged donor countries "to step forward with pledges that will enable us to provide vital food, and other essential living items as we approach the winter months."

The latest figures are in addition to the 6.5 million of Afghanistan's population of more than 30 million who constantly or seasonally suffer a lack of food.

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Afghans pick up food rations supplied by the United Nations World Food Programme. (Photo by Richard Lee courtesy WFP)
Afghanistan is still recovering from a devastating drought between 1998 and 2003. Armed conflict between fighters loyal to the ousted Taliban regime and Afghan and international forces has made the effects of the current drought worse, particularly in the country's southern provinces.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, has deployed 31,000 soldiers across the country, and took over command of forces in the southern region July 31.

Today's appeal also includes assistance to an estimated 20,000 families displaced by the recent armed conflict in Uruzgan, Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said the UN, citing the Afghan government.

According to the Swiss charity ACT International, Action by Churches Together, most rain-fed crops, estimated to constitute 85 percent of the cultivated land, have failed. Some 2.5 million people are at risk mainly in the north, west and central regions of Afghanistan.

Agriculture accounts for 52 percent of the impoverished nation's gross domestic product, and wheat comprises 80 percent of cereal production.

Many water sources across Afghanistan have dried up. Due to the reduced availability of fodder, livestock mortality rates have increased and livestock prices have fallen.

Families with no reserves are migrating to other places for work. Women are suffering the most in meeting the needs of their families, and some families are so hard pressed that they see the "bride price" as a means of income and are marrying their daughters off early.

The water shortage could drive more farmers to grow opium poppies, the raw material for heroin, which requires less water than most other crops, such as wheat. The United Nations has estimated opium production will jump 60 percent this year in Afghanistan, a country that already produces more than 90 percent of the world's supplies.

Russia's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and subsequent civil wars and droughts over the past 25 years have created the world's largest refugee population with more than six million people fleeing their homes during that time, most of them to neighboring Pakistan and Iran. An estimated 2.6 million Afghans still live in Pakistan.