Afghanistan, June 29, 2018
“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 with diarrhea twice recently.”
Azin and her family are among the 1.9 million people across 20 Afghanistan provinces affected by the catastrophic drought gripping the country.
Southwestern Nimroz Province, where they live, received 70 percent less snow and rain than average last winter. The rivers are dry. Water points are exhausted.
Relief International is building new wells and restoring broken ones with funding from UNICEF in Nimroz’s Chakhansoor District. Safe drinking water doesn’t just prevent water-related diseases like diarrhea, malnutrition and respiratory diseases, all of which have increased in drought-affected provinces across the country. It also keeps these families from attempting dangerous journeys across the Iranian border to where water is more plentiful. A June survey by RI teams found families fleeing at alarming rates: in one village, Awar, just 70 families remained, down from 300 just two months earlier. Almost all of those families also plan to leave if water continues to be unavailable.
In addition to water, many of these families are looking for work. The drought has decimated rural Afghanistan’s two main occupations, farming and animal herding. So tens of thousands of people have been forced on dangerous migrations – either illegally to Iran or to already overcrowded cities – in search of economic opportunities.
RI is working to fuel alternative livelihoods for those who have stayed behind, occupations that do not depend on water.
Women’s groups have requested materials and machines to boost entrepreneurial activities like rug making, tailoring and handicrafts. RI plans to expand these activities to other parts of Afghanistan as well.
Azin, who is pregnant, says “I will deliver my baby and then cross the border with [my children] and reach my husband in Iran.” Azin says she knows the risks of this illegal migration – trafficking, abduction, detention, deportation, abuse.
“What choice do I have?” she says.
RI teams served nearly 18,000 people during the 7-month project, supplementing well construction with hygiene and water purification equipment and trainings. On a recent visit to Chakhansoor, a group of women told RI staff that since Relief International built their well they are no longer getting sick from the water and the level of health in the all village has improved. What they need now, they said, are alternative ways to earn a living.
*Name changed at Azin’s request.