Afghanistan Weekly Update No. 357

UN Withdraws from Kandahar
The United Nations withdrew all international staff from Kandahar, Afghanistan, on the evening of 28 March. On 26 March, armed Taliban entered a number of United Nations premises, allegedly in search of escapees. United Nations representatives in Kandahar met with representatives of the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs to protest these actions. The local authorities apologised and gave reassurances that these actions would not be repeated. The United Nations accepted the apology and continued with its humanitarian work on behalf of the Afghan people. However, on 27 March, armed Taliban again forced their way into United Nations premises; property was damaged, and staff were intimidated.

Because these actions are clear violations of United Nations immunity and of formal agreements between the United Nations and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the United Nations was compelled to stop work in the area in the interests and safety of United Nations staff. Specifically, the United Nations has withdrawn international staff, cancelled all missions to the area, closed United Nations offices in Kandahar, and ceased all United Nations assistance activities in southern region.

Before resuming operations in southern Afghanistan, the United Nations seeks a reaffirmation from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that the security protocols will be respected.

The Drought

According to the UN Regional Coordinator in Herat, the Governor of Badghis Province reports severe shortage of water in Jawan, Tagab Alam and Sang Atash districts of Badghis province due to low snowfall and no rain. Available water is salty, dirty and unusable by people or animals. FAO and WFP corroborate this report after recent visits to the area. The Regional Coordinator plans a joint UN mission to Qala-e-Naw to assess the situation.

In Herat, more kochis arrive with their livestock by truck everyday. The local authority is providing free trucks to help them move away from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz. There are several kochi camps along the Herat-Turgundi road at intervals of two to three kilometres. At the edge of every camp there are many carcasses of sheep and goats, which died as result of transport stress, lack of water and forage.

The most recent update on the drought is attached to this Weekly Update*. You may also access it at the Assistance Afghanistan website: The report on the drought is filed in the "news" section, under "other."


Women and Health Care

At Malalai Maternity hospital in Kabul 350 new mothers received education on the proper care and breast-feeding of new-borns. Newly opened Pul-i-Alam hospital has been receiving many patients. The MoPH will recruit eleven midwives for Basic Health Care sub-centres in Logar province. Despite many difficulties in the organising of the course, training in women's health began in Laghman province with UNICEF, WHO, MoPH and NGO involvement.

RRD's female social mobilisers and health educators continued to reach women in Kabul City and rural districts of Dehsabz, Kamari and Bagrami with messages on health and hygiene issues, importance of safe drinking water and excreta disposal, and the role of women in personal and environmental hygiene matters. They also provided information on mine awareness, Convection on the Rights of Child and Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Health Planning

The WHO office in Ghazni has prepared a health work plan for 2000 and distributed copies to all health stakeholders in south-eastern Afghanistan. In Kunduz, WHO chaired the EPI co-ordination meeting, which was attended by the MoPH, MSF and SCA aimed at conducting EPI refresher training course for vaccinators in Kunduz and better implementation of routine EPI activities in the northeast. The meeting also discussed district micro planning and MCH activities. In Paktika, a joint WHO/MOPH team visited 10 districts that have no health facilities in order to prepare a comprehensive micro-plan for the NIDs campaign in May.

Medical supplies

WHO provided anti-TB drugs to Garamser District Hospital (Helmand) and Alkhedmat Hospital (Kandahar) and medical and surgical supplies to Ghazni Civil Hospital, which has been partially repaired with the assistance of WHO. In western Afghanistan, a WHO x-ray technician has surveyed and repaired x-ray equipment and machines in Herat, Farah and Badghis provinces. He also provided in-service training on maintenance and safe use of the equipment. In Kunduz, WHO conducted EPI refresher training for vaccinators.


About seventy persons including the Governor of Herat, UN agencies and NGOs participated in World Water Day in Herat. The President of RRD spoke about the importance of water for all living beings. The local media provided comprehensive coverage of the UNICEF-sponsored event.

WWD was also celebrated in Kunar province, where UNICEF focused on widespread deforestation in the area.

The Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) has completed a water supply project in Maiwand district of Kandahar Province. The eleven wells dug will benefit 150 families, while seventy-five baths and sixty latrines will benefit seventy-five families. The community participated in site selection, and provided unskilled labour and some materials. The pumps provided in the project will be maintained by mechanics initially trained by DACAAR but now paid by the community.


UNICEF reports that home schools for girls in Jalalabad, previously closed by the Department of Education, spontaneously re-opened and are functioning.



FAO fodder crops specialists monitored 33 experimental plots in a PEACE Initiative district in Kandahar province. The programme has initiated new fodder crop demonstrations in Farah, Kandahar, Kabul and Nangarhar Provinces. Two hundred farmers have been contracted so far. In 1999, these activities were extended in northern and central Afghanistan. In addition to new seed varieties, technical staffs are also giving advice on fertilizer use, irrigation, harvesting, and how to make better use of fodder for animal feeding. These demonstrations have shown that improved seed varieties can improve yields.


Police in New Zealand say they have broken an Afghan run syndicate, smuggling illegal immigrants - many from Pakistan - to Australia, via New Zealand. The syndicate was also believed to have been involved in drug smuggling and counterfeit currency, with some of the immigrants funding the fees due to the organisation by becoming drug couriers.

The Government of Pakistan announced the setting up of fifteen new checkpoints along the Pak/Afghan border. These will be manned by Customs and Frontier Constabulary personnel and while their primary remit will be the trafficking of commercial goods, it may well have secondary benefit for the anti-smuggling effort.

To follow-up on the implementation of Mullah Omar's decree to reduce opium poppy cultivation by one-third, Mullah Rabani, Head of the Ministers' Council of the Taliban, in a letter to the Governors of Helmand and Kandahar, reiterated the Taliban's commitment to reduce opium poppy cultivation and informed the Governors that progress will be evaluated through the Annual Opium Poppy Survey. Subsequently, the Governors instructed the district administrators of the respective provinces to ensure implementation of Mullah Omar's decree.

The Kandahar Drug Control Coordination Unit (QDCCU) conducted a preliminary survey in the Southwestern Region including UNDCP's target districts (Ghorak, Khakriz, and Maiwand) regarding the status of the implementation of Mullah Omar's decree and the Governor's order for 50% reduction in opium poppy cultivation in the target districts this year. The preliminary survey of the QDCCU mentions that farmers largely comply with Mullah Omar's decree and the Governor's order and also mentions that no poppy was cultivated on government land. The preliminary findings of the QDCCU will be verified through UNDCP's annual opium poppy survey.



Ten families (fifty-eight individuals) have been deported from Iran to Zaranj. In addition, 1,233 persons were forcibly returned through Islam Qala (Herat). UNHCR strongly protested these deportation in the wake of the implementation of the voluntary repatriation programme from Iran. In preparation for the voluntary return of refugees, UNHCR has completed surveys for the establishment of holding and transit camps in Islam Qala, Zaranj, Herat, and Dilaram. Work on installation of water and sanitation systems is to commence soon with DACAAR. The first group of 750 returnees from Iran is expected to arrive in Herat on 9 April 2000.

In Islam Qala and Herat, two transit camps are almost ready. Provision of tents for shelter and water holes are being completed at both locations. UNHCR and IOM will arrange transportation from the border to the provincial capitals. Basics needs expected at destination are water, shelter, improvement of the roads, health and later education.

Information Note: The Drought in Southern Afghanistan

The drought affecting southern Afghanistan is continuing to take a toll on agricultural and urban areas. Although it has rained three times this year, January and February have been unusually dry with far below average precipitation. Compounding the current water shortage is the scarcity of rain during both 1998 and 1999. The situation is likely to get worse because the period for rain is rapidly ending, and the next rains are not expected until December. The Helmand River, one of the major rivers in southwest Afghanistan, can now be crossed on foot in Lashkargah, Helmand province. This phenomenon indicates the severity of the current water shortage. Pending the receipt of water from snow melt (snowfall over winter was reportedly low this year) in the Central Highlands, southern Afghanistan may face a possible water emergency.

This could involve a serious lack of drinking water in urban areas, increased disease outbreaks, severe loss of livestock, and crop failure in the breadbasket of Afghanistan.

A UN/NGO task force was formed in mid-March to assess and plan a response to the developing situation. The geographical extents of the current affected area are the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, and Nimroz, with some effects seen in Zabul and Uruzgan. New reports, as yet unconfirmed, have been received that the drought is also affecting animals in Farah Province.

The Rural Situation

Feed available through grazing has declined due to the drought. Moreover, farmers have insufficient quantities of fodder from the 1999 harvest due to low yields. The result is that animals in affected areas have begun dying of starvation. So far, livestock owners of the Registan desert, who are mainly Kochis (nomads), are most seriously affected. Some have already lost up to 100% of their stock. After review of historic animal numbers in the area, FAO has found that in 1997/98 there were an estimated four million sheep and goats owned by Kochis in Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz. Total cattle, sheep, and goats are estimated at about 5.6 million. Although livestock mortality rates have not yet been collected for all regions, assessment of Shinkay district and Shemolzai district in districts of Kandahar and Zabul showed that the mortality rate of sheep varied between 38% in and 63% respectively. Animal mortality is expected to have a very adverse impact on the livelihoods of those engaged in livestock production in southern Afghanistan.

In order to keep animals alive and avert large-scale impoverishment, it is possible to provide supplementary feeding with urea/molasses blocks. These are locally produced in Peshawar at a cost of between USD 210 to 215 per metric tonne. FAO has found that this solution would theoretically be possible; however, about 140 tonnes of blocks would suffice for 1.5 million sheep for one day and would cost USD $30,000.

Thus, supplementary feeding of livestock may not prove feasible on any meaningful scale without a large injection of cash. UNOPS have bought up all the molasses blocks (6,000) in Kandahar and have distributed them to livestock owners; this small amount is all that is possible at this time without additional funding.

The next worst affected are farmers, who are increasingly facing a lack of irrigation water from dried up rivers and karezes. Kandahar farmers are already suffering from the drought, while farmers in Helmand may be increasingly affected if rain does not fall in the next few weeks UNOPS has started water conservation measures by building small dam walls in karezes, and will now field a mission to explore ways of expanding water conservation. In addition, in collaboration with MCI, OPS will review water supply from Kajaki Dam and will determine the extent of water supply to agricultural areas irrigated by the dam. A local consultant financed by FAO, Rome will survey the problem in more detail.

The Urban Situation

Water pumps in Kandahar City are either running dry--since the shallow pumps extend only about eight meters deep--or are supplying undrinkable water. Local sources assert that current condition amount to the worst drought since 1961. United Nations agencies in the region say that water is available in Kandahar City at a depth below twenty metres. Thus, it can be assumed that the water table level has descended to a lower aquifer. Moreover, water levels at Kajaki dam are also at a record low and are twenty metres below normal for this time of year.

Urban dwellers are suffering from a lack of clean water and there is a possibility that even deepened wells will not provide water in the future. The World Health Organisation in Kandahar reports that this lack of safe water could result in a new wave of outbreaks of diarrhoea, dysentery, and related diseases. UNICEF and WHO will review the incidence of disease outbreaks in the region in order to get a realistic picture of changes in the health situation that are attributable to drought.

UNCHS (Habitat) in collaboration with UNICEF are updating information on the situation of wells and urban water supply. They will link up with DACAAR, the lead agency in water/sanitation in southern Afghanistan, to obtain information on the status of potable water supply in rural areas.

WFP is already providing emergency feeding for 30,000 families in areas of Kandahar, Helmand, and Zabul amounting to about 40% of the population of the areas covered. WFP Afghanistan has completed the first phase and will use in total 7,164 MT of food--200 kilos of wheat and 50 kilos of corn-soy blend per family. This will continue up to the end of April. Following this programme, based on the scale of need, WFP may also implement a series of food-for-work projects in these areas.

WFP VAM section's baseline survey in Kandahar City, conducted in April 1999, showed that all households are able to purchase enough food to meet their minimum food needs, but that the poorest households are without an able-bodied male and earn 73% of their combined food and non-food needs and 50% of the income earned by poor households with an able bodied man. The income gap between households without an able-bodied man and those with a working male is more marked in Kandahar City than other cities in Afghanistan. The diet of poor households in Kandahar depends on cereals (70% wheat flour or bread and 10% rice).

The city receives 50% of its cereal supplies from Pakistan and 40% from Kandahar province.

WFP is currently updating its survey of the region to reflect the latest situation with special reference to the effects on the Kochis in the Registan.

Local authorities in Kandahar will also be approached to help assess the situation and share their plans to cope with the drought.

Next Steps

The UN and NGOs will continue efforts to piece together a comprehensive picture of current and projected needs based on ongoing and planned assessments. These efforts will be coordinated locally through the RCB in Kandahar and channelled through the Task Force in Islamabad. In recognition of the regional nature of the problem, the Task Force is forging links with those organisations addressing drought conditions in Pakistan. It is intended that a comprehensive summary of needs will be available to donors by mid to late April.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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