Fighting Afghanistan’s drought, with relief in sight

Afghanistan, November 1, 2018

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Azin's young daughter has suffered from several water-related sickness during the drought but her health has stabilized with RI support.

This year in Afghanistan, more people have been displaced by drought than by the country’s ongoing conflict.

“Children are the ones suffering the most,” Azin* says, pointing to her two young children. “The well is broken and the water we drink is not good. They have been sick twice recently.”

Azin and her family are among the nearly two million Afghans affected by the catastrophic drought gripping the country.

Southwestern Nimroz Province, where they live, received seventy percent less rainfall than last year. The rivers are dry and water points are exhausted.

In response to this crisis, Relief International, which has been working in this chronically vulnerable area of Afghanistan for more than a decade to implement governance, shelter, food security and livelihoods programs, has scaled up our long-term development work to meet the emergency needs of the community. Funding from UNICEF has made it possible for RI to build new wells and rehabilitate the ones that have run dry across Chakhansoor, Kang and Charburjak Districts. Staff members work seven days a week to deliver safe drinking water to nearly 22,000 people residing in the hardest to reach areas. RI teams are also teaching local community members how to properly manage and store their water. Nearly 2,500 water containers have already been distributed to help families safely preserve their limited water rations. A large-scale chlorination campaign is treating water collected from new and refurbished wells to prevent harmful bacteria from contaminating the villages’ water supply.

 

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RI teams drill into a dried riverbed to reach new sources of clean water hidden below the surface.

 

RI’s response has helped cut down on cases of water-related diseases and are reducing the alarming rates by which families are embarking on dangerous migrations in search of relief- either by crossing illegally into Iran or to one of Afghanistan’s already overcrowded cities where rural families have no network of support.

Afghanistan’s prolonged drought has all but decimated the country’s farming and livestock industries, severely affecting families’ livelihoods and only means for survival. A recent survey conducted by RI found families fleeing the situation at shocking rates. In the village of Awar, just 70 families remained, down from 300 just two months earlier. Despite these hardships, an overwhelming number of Afghans would rather not leave their homes behind, choosing to stay if they had access to water.

“The sole existence of a safe source of water was a sufficient incentive for the population to stay in their villages,” RI’s report concluded. 

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Adelah has become a leader in her community by helping expand RI’s drought response efforts.

Local participation, particularly by women, may be the key to revitalizing drought-prone areas of the country. Women like Adelah Muhamandi who works as a Community Mobilizer for RI’s water trucking project and delivers life-saving water to her friends, neighbors and other members of her community. As Afghanistan’s drought and conflict grind on, Adelah notes, “Afghan women like me must come forward and help in the development of the country.”

RI has been working to boost alternative livelihoods for Adelah and others who have not migrated; occupations that do not depend on water. Building on RI’s long-standing governance and livelihood activities in Afghanistan, the organization will expand access to materials that will bolster entrepreneurial activities like rug making, tailoring, and handicrafts.

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*Name changed for protection reasons.