Bracing for the harsh winter - lives of drought-hit Afghans in Herat province

from World Health Organization
Published on 29 Dec 2018 View Original

GHULAM... running out of options. During the past few months, rain has refused to fall. He watched his land turn into dust and his livestock die. Like hundreds of thousands of others, he has brought his family to the city of Herat, set up small camps by the roadside and trying to survive.

Over 260,000 people have so far been displaced by drought across four provinces in western Afghanistan and Herat province is one of the worst affected areas.

This is one of the worst drought Ghulam could remember. As winter arrives, temperatures at night is dropping down to close to zero degree centigrade.

"Some nights none of these families here have any food, we go sleep hungry and cold. We all have lost so much to this drought." ----Ghulam


The drought is yet another burden on a country still wracked by violence. With a fragile health system, the displaced people are faced with a significant shortage of primary health services. The risk of communicable diseases is very high in displacement camps, as well as areas of origin for those affected by drought. Cases of acute watery diarrhea are affecting more than 40 percent of households in displaced sites. Measles are more prevalent than previously reported. Existing health services are unable to cope with the increase demand in the areas of origin and are now out of essential medicines and supplies.


Dr. Salehi works at the mobile clinic in one of the informal settlements on the outskirts of Herat city.

"Pneumonia and diarrhoea are common here. Eye infections and skin diseases are on the increase because of lack of water, measles, colds can spread quickly because people are malnourished, their immune system is weak, and we are their only source of healthcare." Said Dr.Salehi.

NEW MOTHER Aliah came to Herat city from Ghor province. She brought her six months old baby to the mobile clinic for assessment of malnutrition. Mothers are often given iron and vitamin supplements and instructions about their health condition. The services are still far from enough. "We've seen women often come in with birth complications and the closest healthcare centre is more than an hour's drive away," says Fatima, a midwife, "with the drought, some small complications became serious."

42% of the households in drought affected districts report a total lack of antenatal care.


More than 45,000 people have received health services under the Health Cluster led by WHO. "We are providing all possible support to address the ongoing challenges. We support the Basic Package of Health Services for implementers to begin rapid responses to areas of greatest threats. We are sending medicines and medical supplies to health facilities in prioritized drought-affected areas." Says Dr. David Lai, the Health Cluster coordinator at WHO afghanistan, who visits the drought-hit regions regularly to assess the situation.

"This really is a coordinated effort among different agencies, and we've had a lot of support from different donors. For example, the Republic of Korea has been supporting the Health Cluster to help the Afghans who are in dire need during this drought. "


Fara is one of Ghulam’s daughter-in-law. This morning, she brought her 6 months old daughter to mobile health facility supported by WHO. "If we had any money we would have never come here. Our bad luck brought us here," she says. Her daughter is being treated for diarrheal disease. Her other son, who is 3 years old is in hospital being treated for severe acute malnutrition.

Ghulam and his family are stuck. They don't know where they can go next or what would happen to them. While the government of Afghanistan has a plan is in place to move some of the displaced to a more stable site gradually, winter has arrived. More food is needed, better health services have to be provided for those in Herat and other provinces affected by drought.

See the full photo essay here