A new drought response plan will help 1.4 million of the most vulnerable drought-affected people in Afghanistan during the coming winter season and through April next year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said on Tuesday.
Some 10.6 million people, or close to half of Afghanistan’s rural population, don't know where their next meal is coming from, according to FAO.
The drought response plan - unveiled on Tuesday at a Geneva conference on Afghanistan - is also intended to reduce the number of people uprooted by drought by helping them stay in their home area, FAO stated.
This current hunger levels in Afghanistan have many causes, including years of conflict, but it have been made worse by a severe drought triggered by low snowfall last winter followed by rainfall of up to 70 per cent less than normal in some places, FAO said.
Many families have resorted to desperate coping measures including skipping meals, selling off their livestock or sheltering in makeshift displacement camps, the UN agency said.
FAO said is working with partner organizations to provide vulnerable farmers in 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces – particularly households headed by women or people with disabilities – with urgently-needed wheat seeds and fertilizers in time for the winter planting season, when much-needed rains are forecast to finally arrive.
Livestock protection measures, including concentrated livestock feed, fodder crop seed, and animal health services are also being provided, FAO added.
Livestock are a key source of food and income for the majority of rural Afghans so keeping herds healthy through the harsh winter is therefore essential for rural food security as it preserves breeding stocks and allows rural people to sustain their livelihoods, according to FAO .
“Households will not be able to recover from this drought if farmers do not have seeds to plant when the rains come, or if they have been forced to sell all their animals,” said Rajendra Aryal, FAO’s Representative in Afghanistan.
FAO needs 30 million dollars to carry out this emergency response, he added.
“While addressing the current situation is extremely urgent, FAO is also working hard in Afghanistan to diversify livelihoods and improve water management over the longer term, said Dominique Burgeon, the Director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division and Resilience Strategic Programme Leader.
"We need to make communities resilient to the growing number of climate-based risks that the country faces. Only in this way can we break the cycle of poverty and hunger and help bring peace,” he said.
Burgeon just returned from a mission to Afghanistan's drought-hit western province of Herat, FAO said.
“I met many families who had no other option than to sell their oxen to cover their most urgent food needs. These are the oxen they normally use to plough their land,” Burgeon stated.
Many donors including the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund, Belgium, France, Japan, Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), have already responded to FAO's appeal, the agency said, adding that it hopes many more would do so in the coming weeks.