A national drought has been officially declared by the Government of Afghanistan on 23 June 2021, with 80% of the country now classified as being in either severe or serious drought status. This follows months of early warnings and consultations among humanitarian, development, and government actors, predicting the high probability of drought-induced displacement of families, particularly those relying on agriculture for livelihoods. The level, nature, and timing of responses during the drought in 2018, which saw nearly a quarter of a million people flee their homes and villages, have provided critical lessons that have informed preparation for this year.
“It is crucially important to not overlook the drought situation here in Afghanistan. We must remember that families living in rural areas in Afghanistan are grappling with unimaginable and severely complex conditions, with drought becoming a breaking point for them,” says Jared Rowell, DRC Country Director in Afghanistan.
“They are caught in the middle of a complicated and indiscriminate conflict which in itself has forced many to flee their homes to safer ground. And now at the same time, low to zero agricultural crop yields and loss of livestock due to lack of sufficient rainfall and depletion of groundwater sources, will further add to the displacement of vulnerable people.”
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) continues to support efforts to reach those affected by displacement including people impacted by the ongoing drought, particularly in western Afghanistan, where many have taken refuge in Herat from neighbouring Badghis, Ghor and Farah provinces.
Jared Rowell, Country Director for DRC Afghanistan
Early indications from new DRC assessments over the past three months show families who left their place of origin due to natural hazards, have resorted to selling assets, have fallen into debt and are engaging in hazardous work to cope. This in turn is leading some to send children to work in neighbouring countries or other parts of Afghanistan or in some cases child marriage as a way to reduce financial burdens for the family. Such measures cause high levels of psychosocial distress with long-term impact for children and youth which will require years of professional support and attention to alleviate.
“It will take a farmer or herder at least three years to recover from the impact of drought. However, within this period, families will have already resorted to negative coping mechanisms, some of which may be irreversible,” says Jared Rowell.
As one of the largest informal settlements in Afghanistan’s Herat province, Shahrak Sabz is home to thousands of families from neighbouring provinces who were displaced during a drought in 2018. Three years on, they struggle to meet their most basic needs and cope with freezing temperatures.