International and local humanitarian aid workers at the request of Afghan authorities are preparing to launch a drought rescue mission in areas practically inaccessible to the government where more than 100,000 of the most vulnerable people reside. The Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) appears to be leading the charge as worsening drought conditions threaten the lives of nearly 2 million people and will likely only fuel more instability.
“ARCS decided to launch an operation aimed at providing humanitarian assistance in the worst affected areas,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in a bulletin posted on Tuesday, May 16, at around 3:00 a.m. GMT. “The ARCS operations team is currently developing a six-month response plan to cover the six worst affected provinces.”
The rescue effort, of course, comes during an extremely volatile period in Afghanistan. One of the worst affected provinces just happens to be Farah, the capital city of which the Taliban claimed to have captured on Tuesday.
However, provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi said Afghan forces repelled the assault by almost 2,000 Taliban fighters, Tolo News reported. The day-long battle left 25 Afghan security force members, 15 civilians, and 300 insurgents dead, according to local officials.
In addition to Farah, the IFRC bulletin listed 11 other of the provinces that have been hit hardest by the drought which include Badghis, Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Helmand, Nimroz, Uruzgan, Kubduz, Takhar, Herat, and Ghor.
Overall, according to the latest figures published by the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC), around 1.9 million people in 20 provinces are affected “by the prevailing drought conditions.”
However, the ARCS operation will initially focus on the six worst-hit provinces where 15,000 of the most vulnerable families reside, accounting for some 105,000 people.
Populations in areas affected by the dry spell in these six provinces are most in need of emergency support in the areas of food security, water, sanitation, and emergency shelter, according to the alert.
The ARCS of course will use caution in the delivery of assistance, the release said, with “particular attention… given to the analysis of the prevailing security situation in the country and on the ARCS access to the conflict affected areas.”
On top of the conflict-related humanitarian needs, the bulletin explained, below average precipitation and high temperatures since last fall have resulted in significant reductions in snow depths, river flows, water levels, and soil moistures, which are expected to negatively impact this year’s spring and summer agricultural season.
“As it is difficult for people to maintain livestock in absence of fodder and water, livestock production has gone down and livestock sale prices have decreased on average between 20-30 percent since October 2017,” the release said.
Limited or no harvest and reduced livestock production can lead to food insecurity and reduced income for those households that are reliant on agriculture.
Emergency response teams current response capacity includes 2,000 food parcels, now in progress, 120 doctors and nurses in 34 Medical Health Teams (MHT) and 362 doctors, nurses and pharmacists in 44 clinics.
ARCS said it has on hand a years’ worth of medicine for the MHTs and three months’ worth for the clinics. The rescue teams will also be ready with more than 8,800 tents, 96,000 blankets, and over 15,500 kitchen sets, according to the bulletin.
In April, the UN warned that the humanitarian community could only support 90,000 drought victims for two months, which prompted the Afghan government to launch a $100 million appeal for immediate livestock protection in the form of fodder/feed support and overall $550 million for 10 months.
UNICEF officials in the same month said the impact of the drought could not have come at a worse time because levels of severe acute malnutrition rises, on average, by nearly 25 percent during the summer months. Currently, around 1.6 million children and 443,000 pregnant and lactating women are suffering from malnutrition across all provinces in Afghanistan, UNICEF said in a press release on April 23.
Insurgents can exploit these types of conditions especially if the response to the drought is perceived as ineffective whether it be by the government itself or aid partners. Perceptions of government failure to deal with the crisis would likely boost support for the Taliban – not a far-fetched idea considering there is a history of such crises undermining Afghan regimes.
For example, some scholars believe King Zahir Shah’s inability to deal with the drought in the early 1970s was a factor that contributed to the public’s willingness to give the king’s cousin a chance who ousted him in 1973. A couple of years of drought and famine left around 80,000 Afghans dead. And there is no doubt the Taliban will try to make a public relations victory out of the situation should conditions continue to deteriorate.