Afghanistan: Drought - Emergency Plan of Action (EPoA) DREF Operation n° MDRAF007

Situation Report
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A. Situation analysis

Description of the disaster

Forty years of war, recurrent natural disasters, increasing poverty, and COVID-19 are devastating the people of Afghanistan. Conflict continues to drive extreme physical and psychological harm and is forcibly displacing hundreds of thousands of people every year. Civilian casualties remain staggeringly high, with no sign of a lull in fighting, and women and children continue to be disproportionately impacted. The onset of COVID-19 has had catastrophic consequences for people’s health, incomes, and levels of debt. Hunger and malnutrition have spiked amid the ongoing conflict and economic downturn, with food insecurity now on a par with the 2018-2019 drought, leaving Afghanistan with the second highest number of people in emergency food insecurity in the world. Drier-than-average conditions associated with La Niña had, in the past, affected winter crops in the area very significantly. For example, the 2017–2018 winter wet season was characterized by persistent dryness across most of the country, combined with high temperatures, which were likely induced by La Niña conditions. In April 2018, the Government of Afghanistan officially declared a drought emergency. Drought continued during the spring and summer months and caused substantial cumulative rainfall deficits throughout the country, resulting in the lowest wheat production since 2011.

During the second half of 2020, a moderate to strong La Niña phenomenon was registered that is causing extreme weather conditions in various parts of the world. This phenomenon, which affects temperatures, precipitation, and storm patterns, is expected to continue at least until spring 2021, according to the World Meteorological Organization. In Afghanistan, this commonly results in below-average rainfall and snowfall across the country. The timing of this La Niña event coincides with the main wheat season with harvests in May-July 2021, which are critical following the lean season (January-April). The figure below outlines the seasonal calendar for a typical year in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been experiencing below-normal rainfall since October 2020. Such conditions are expected to continue through the first half of 2021 in the country according to forecasters. The conditions have affected the winter season snow accumulation, which is critical for water access during the spring and summer agricultural seasons. It is anticipated that the situation will have an impact on both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture/livestock, as well as on the availability of water for drinking, washing, and sanitation. Mid-March through to the end of July will likely be the peak period during which drought impacts on crops and livestock (agricultural drought) would manifest. The wheat production deficit is expected to be 16 to 27 per cent this year and as a result, requiring increased top-up from international suppliers. Such drivers would further affect communities already suffering from the ongoing economic crises exacerbated by the secondary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including high prices of basic commodities, conflict, and food insecurity.

In Afghanistan, winter grains are usually planted in October and November, after seasonal rains sufficiently replenish soil moisture. Erratic rainfall in October and early November 2020 was not conducive for planting and crop establishment. The cumulative precipitation amounts in the 2020–2021 winter season has been below‑average, stemming from La Niña conditions across most of the country. Inadequate winter precipitation negatively affects the establishment and development of key grains such as wheat and barley. Lack of snow cover makes crops susceptible to frost kill. In addition, reduced snowfall constrains the availability of irrigation water from melted snow for summer crops. At greatest risk are rainfed production areas in northern, western, and some parts of central regions of the country. Reduced agricultural production constrains farmers’ income and limits livelihood opportunities for casual agricultural labour, as well as nomadic herders’ access to fodder or feed for their livestock. Limited access to water will further affect the body conditions of their animals. The key drivers that underpin food insecurity in the country remain present as well, including conflict, limited livelihood opportunities, high food prices, and natural disasters.

The winter wet season is critical for successful agricultural production throughout the year. Decreases in precipitation during this period is having devastating effects on crops and livestock, which in turn will further exacerbate the already chronically food-insecure population and will disrupt the country’s main livelihoods. Agriculture, which provides a livelihood to nearly 80 per cent of the population, is being the sector most affected by current dry conditions. Impacts will include insufficient food, loss of assets, likelihood of drought-induced migration, reduced planting areas, and distress selling of livestock. According to a recent IPC report and other food insecurity reports produced by the Food Security Cluster and Ministry of Agriculture, food insufficiency can already be seen.

As outlined in the above table, vulnerability is highest in rainfed provinces as the agricultural productions (rain-fed), pastures, and livestock are being affected the most in these provinces. Afghanistan has been experiencing an exceptional food insecurity condition in 2020 and 2021.

The ongoing food insecurity situation is very much worse than the previous years. According to the IPC report, from November 2019 to March 2020, 2,695,000 people were in IPC phase 4 and 8,591,000 people were in IPC phase 3. Based on the same IPC report (produced recently by Food Security Cluster and Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock), between November 2020 and March 2021 – a period that corresponds to the lean season –around 13.15 million people (42% of the total population) have been experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above), out of which nearly 4.3 million people are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and an estimated 8.85 million people are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Moreover, only five provinces of the country were in IPC phase 4 in the first quarter of 2020, but by March 2021, 10 provinces of the country are classified in IPC phase 43 .

In addition to the chronic underlying factors (e.g., armed conflicts, unemployment / underemployment, etc.) of food insecurity, the pandemic – COVID-19 – has further deteriorated the situation and has been greatly increasing the level of food insecurity in Afghanistan. The current negative developments (dry conditions due to La Nina events) are putting additional pressures and pushing the financially poor households – especially amongst the pastoral households – at risk of experiencing destructive coping strategies. The majority of financially poor households, in provinces affected by drought the most, rely on remittances from family members working outside their provinces. However, seasonal labour supply outpaces demand, further eroding the purchasing power of these households. Others are resorting to reducing the quality and quantity of food, leaving the poorest households surviving on a below basic diet of bread and tea.