Make rain not war

As if it didn’t have enough to deal with, the weather was not kind to Afghanistan the last year.

2008 started with an unusual chill that killed several hundred people and many thousands of animals. The heavy snow fall melted early though, the spring rains were not enough, and summer temperatures were above average. The drought in 2008 was the worst in the last eight years, while the price of wheat rocketed (see here and here for more on the same). The year before wasn’t exactly great either.

The province of Ghor in the centre of the country is a barren and impoverished place at the best of times. It’s starkly beautiful and one of the most food insecure parts of Afghanistan. There have been a number of emergency food aid projects there over recent years, but they’ve been pit against the weather and it’s been an uphill struggle.

Through the tedious business of analysing the results of a rapid food security assessment, I saw a picture of hunger emerge from the rows of numbers. It’s not normal to find a database so emotive, but the statistics were depressingly bleak.

Wheat yields were almost half that of 2007 in some districts. The average number of animals a household own also halved. Sheep and goats are a key livelihood, but the drought has forced people to sell off their herds. Levels of debt have increased substantially as families have had to buy food on credit.

At the time of the survey, a majority of households had enough to eat for about two months. What counts as ‘enough to eat’ often amounts to no more than bread and tea. The gap between that time and the next harvest is about four months. To try and fill it, families will go even further into debt with local shop keepers and sell off more animals, furthering a cycle of declining livelihoods. Selling off a daughter as young as twelve or thirteen in marriage is a not an unheard of response to a chronic lack of food and money. 

Food shortages are not uncommon throughout the world. Here though the world’s attention is so transfixed by the fighting that more humdrum problems such as hunger tend to get passed over. But there’s more than one way to die in Afghanistan.

While I’ve been getting increasingly bored with politics, I’ve been spending more time staring out the window at the clouds. How much rainfall there will be this spring has seemed more relevant than how many more troops the US and NATO will send forth into the breach, at least in the short term.

In Ghor and elsewhere, people will be hungry until the next harvest in August, but it’s been a huge relief to see the sky darken and the streets of Kabul turn into one large quagmire after several weeks of rain.

The sailor in me enjoys keeping a weather eye on such things, and another drought like last year’s would be disastrous.

Satellite imagery shows about average snow depth and coverage for most of the country, and so far rainfall has also been on track for a better year. Temperatures have been above average so there’s the danger of earlier snow melt, and a few people have been killed in floods last week (the mud roofs of many more falling in on them), it’s been cold and grey and miserable but I’m still hoping it will last a little longer.

Sat image of Afghanistan extracted from FEWS Net

‘Rain rain rain! It never stops!’ ‘Yes, rain and mud, but at least it is good for the eggs’ I replied.

Eggs / wheat seeds; near enough right?

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One Response to “Make rain not war”

  1. Angela Says:

    Hello! I have been really enjoying your blog, I hope that it is OK that I linked you!

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