Afghan drought spreads, half population hit

Reuters, June 6, 2000
U.N. By Andrew Hill

ISLAMABAD, June 6 (Reuters) - The United Nations warned on Tuesday that Afghanistan's worst drought in 30 years had now spread across the broken country and almost half its 20 million people could be affected.

"It turns out now that the drought is more widespread than we thought," the acting coordinator for U.N. Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA), Sayed Amed Farah, told a news conference.

Field teams have established that the drought, which was originally thought to have hit southwest Afghanistan hardest in an arc that also affected Pakistan and India, was now beginning to bite in the north of the country.

"It is now confirmed that the whole country has been severely affected. Preliminary results of a crop assessment survey show that rain-fed crops in the north failed almost completely. The central highlands are also seriously affected," the U.N. said.

Surveys suggest that "between now and June 2001 at least half of the population of Afghanistan may be affected by drought, three to four million severely and another eight to 12 million moderately," the U.N. said in a statement.

U.N. officials said that to date there were no reports of widespread fatalities, only unconfirmed reports of some deaths, but they added that the disaster was the worst news for a country which has known little but suffering for two decades.

The drought, which has hit farmers dependent on rain and nomads whose lifes revolve around livestock, comes to a country that has suffered foreign occupation, murderous earthquakes, an unending civil war and U.N. sanctions over the last 20 years.


Farah said donors had reminded Afghanistan's Taleban rulers that it was responsible for people in the 90 percent of the country it controls and would take a dim view if the Islamic movement launched its traditional anti-guerrilla summer offensive.

"Donors have basically warned, alerted the Taleban that they are responsible for what is happening to their own population. If they displace their own people (by war) it might affect levels of commitment of future assistance," he said.

Privately, U.N. officials said they were also worried that possible new U.N. sanctions against the Taleban could rebound with violent attacks on U.N. aid staff in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan consumes about four million tonnes of wheat a year and last year had a record deficit of 1.1 million. This year's deficit could be as much as two million tonnes.

The U.N. said it would appeal for $67 million in aid to assure food security, stop drought-affected people migrating to towns or other areas and to ensure water supplies and health care.

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