Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Snow and rain raising hopes for a fall in hunger

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by Janet Rice - Communications
When the first two weeks of February passed without the usual heavy snows in Badghis Province, World Vision Afghanistan staff weren't sure whether this was cause for celebration or concern.

On the one hand, blue skies meant dry roads and a much easier time getting aid to needy families throughout the remote, mountainous province. It has not been uncommon for teams trying to reach beneficiaries in far-flung Qala-I-Now, Ab Kamari and Jawand districts to get stranded for several days on impassable icy or muddy roads.

On the other hand, a snow shortage would likely decimate summer wheat crops -- and cause a fourth year of desperate hunger in Badghis, whose families rely on farming for survival. About 90 per cent of Afghanistan farmland depends solely on rain and snow for irrigation. It would also create a crisis for thousands of families who rely on trapping and holding snow underground to use in drier seasons.

Three years of drought in Afghanistan have meant no crops, and no food or work, for Badghis's farming families. The drought has devastated local economies, with families selling almost everything they own in the local bazaar just to survive. For most, that meant selling all their animals -- and with them, their transportation (donkeys), their children's milk (goats) and their way to work their land (oxen).

Fortunately, on February 16, thin, high clouds finally brought the anxiously awaited snows. Since then, nature has been making up for lost time: In just three days, 56 millimetres -- more snow than usually falls in the entire month -- had fallen around Qala-I-Now. The snow has since turned to rain, which continues to fall throughout the province.

This precipitation comes not a moment too soon, says Wynn Flaten, World Vision Afghanistan Food Security Manager. "This is a crucial time for western Afghanistan crops," he explained. "Right now, seeds inside the wheat plants need water to germinate. Without it, they would die of thirst. And a lot of hard work -- the farmers' and ours -- would go to waste."

Working with Village Organizations set up last year throughout Badghis, World Vision staff had spent much of last fall distributing wheat seed and fertilizer to more than 15,000 families whose previous crops had either failed, or had failed to create seed worth planting.

Wynn says this is the first water hurdle the wheat crop must clear. In early April, when it's time for the plants to produce their seed, Badghis families will again be anxiously watching the skies.

So will World Vision staff. "We'll hope and pray for rain," Wynn says. "And when it comes, there will be a celebration like you've never seen.

"These families have been suffering for three long years with no food and no way to support their families," Wynn continued. "God willing, this year, they will go from barely surviving back to thriving."