Emergency humanitarian aid for the victims of drought in Afghanistan

Location of operation: AFGHANISTAN
Amount of Decision: EUR 2,500,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/AFG/BUD/2006/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population.

1.1. - Rationale:

Large parts of Afghanistan are currently experiencing a severe drought situation, affecting populations who are still recovering from the severe drought that lasted from 1998 2004. In general in Afghanistan, based on historical observation, regular dry cycles of 15 years are observed, during which one would expect 2 -3 years of drought conditions. recent years, however, there has been a marked tendency for this drought cycle to occur frequently than the model predicts, and since 1960, the country has experienced drought 1963-64, 1966-67, 1970-71 and 1998-04(1). The situation has been exacerbated by declining rainfall over the same period, and without doubt the latest drought starting in 1998 was of the worst ever recorded.

As a result, on 25 July the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations launched joint drought appeal of USD 76.4 million (EUR 60,138,066). According to this appeal, drought conditions will affect up to 2.5 million people living mostly in rain-fed agroecological zones affected by drought.

During the second quarter of 2006 concern grew following significantly less snowfall winter and the failure of rains in much of the country during the critical months of April May. Mainly because of this, there was a considerable reduction in the yield of wheat. A shortfall of 1.2 million tonnes of cereals is recorded in 2006(2), as opposed to the original projection for 2006 of 500,000.

With water sources drying up, the drought also affected the availability of drinking water which in certain areas has already forced people to leave their villages.

It is worth bearing in mind that this is the 7th year of drought in the last decade; while 2005 was exceptional in that it had good rains, many of the coping mechanisms are severely weakened and require several good years in order to recover. Whilst the impact of the drought is exacerbated by the effects of years of war, chronic poverty and a lack of investment in development projects in certain areas (please see table on page 6), the recent pattern of drought in Afghanistan is certainly unusually severe, if not unprecedented, and as such constitutes an emergency. Immediate action is needed to help the most vulnerable households cope with food and water shortages.

This rationale is in line with the overall DG ECHO strategy for Afghanistan in 2006 to assist the victims of natural hazard.

1.2. - Identified needs:

On 2 August 2006, the DG ECHO Kabul office organised a meeting with DG ECHO partners in Kabul, in order to get a better overview of the situation and to co-ordinate a possible intervention. As the initial needs assessment in the joint Afghan government - UN drought appeal needed more information on the places of intervention and beneficiaries in order to decide on a possible ECHO intervention, the following needs assessment is mainly based on the partner's findings.

Food security:

Compared to the previous year, about 50 to 60% loss in yields of rain-fed wheat has been reported in the provinces in the North and North-East regions. The loss in yields of rain-fed wheat is 10-20% in the West-Central regions and 30 to 80% in other regions. The hardest hit areas due to crop failure of rain-fed wheat are the provinces in the North and North-East regions. Overall, the total national wheat production of 2006 is estimated at 3.71 million tonnes, a reduction of 13% compared to the previous year's total wheat production of 4.27 million tonnes. The domestic production of cereal for the year is estimated at 4.8 million tones. Afghanistan's cereal requirement is 6 million tonnes. Hence, the national cereals shortfall is now estimated by WFP to be 1.2 million rather than the original projection for 2006 of 500,000.

The most vulnerable people are mostly dependent on rainfall for irrigation and consequently a drought has devastating consequences. It not only directly reduces food production but more importantly the wage-earning opportunities of the poor and landless people. This dramatically reduces their capacity to purchase food and, as a consequence, they have to survive on a very poor diet of tea and bread. The most vulnerable households face a food gap of around 7 months.

The main coping mechanisms of the affected population are sending a member of the family to work in Iran and Pakistan, temporary migrations to big cities for survival, selling off livestock (mostly sheep and goats), selling of land, early marriages of girls for income and obtaining credit at high interest rates. This does not provide a sustainable solution to this continuing problem, but rather creates a vicious circle. It has to be noted that after 7 years of drought, the most vulnerable families in particular have exhausted their coping mechanisms. Without external help, these people will no longer be able to cope with another year of drought and will not have access to food.

Livestock are also suffering from these successive climatic hazards, as grazing areas have become scarce due to the lack of sufficient rains allowing grass (fodder) rejuvenation. Areas normally used for grazing are also increasingly used for rain-fed agriculture, thus putting even more pressure on the remaining grazing lands. This might have irreversible negative effects on the ecological system. Over the years it is becoming harder to find fodder for livestock and people are forced to sell livestock because they are unable to find enough fodder to feed them. Fewer animals mean that the normal drought coping mechanisms are reduced even more. This negative effect is aggravated by the fact that most people have to sell their livestock at dumping prices in order to fill the food gap.

Water:

Due to the shortage of rainfall the underground water levels have receded drastically and open wells as well as bore-wells in many areas have dried up. In other areas, no new and sufficiently deep wells have been constructed over the last years. The only access to water these populations have is to existing badly maintained springs. These springs now only produce a limited yield of unsafe water of which only a small percentage is being used for irrigation.

Unavailability of water has been reported by DG ECHO partners in several districts. Distances to water points are increasing to a point that people risk becoming displaced in order to assure access to water. People are restricting the use of available water for drinking purposes only. Afghanistan is a country where quality and access to clean/potable water has always been problematic. A significant part of the population still has poor hygiene practices despite the international humanitarian community's efforts in this field. Humans and cattle share the same open contaminated sources of drinking water.

The Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) identified 59 districts in 12 provinces where water tankering is required to address drinking water shortages. On 10 September, water tankering was provided in only 24 districts. The MRRD still needs 126 tankers to cover the identified areas.

1.3. - Target population and regions concerned:

The area affected contains the following Northern, Western, Central and North-Eastern provinces. The seriousness of the effects of drought varies greatly from district to district, one valley to the next. Given the patchwork nature of the impacted areas and communities, a largescale response aiming to assist entire districts is not appropriate. What is required are targeted responses based on the detailed knowledge of DG ECHO's partners of the exact conditions in the field due to their long presence. The most vulnerable people to be targeted under this decision are those who have reached the limits of their coping mechanisms, therefore lacking basic levels food and water, being subject to displacement and destitution. Special attention will also be given to disabled persons and female-headed households.

1.4. - Risk assessment and possible constraints:

The achievement of this Decision's objective could be affected by the following risks:

- Deterioration in security situation in the areas of activity limiting access to these areas.

- Early onset of winter and landslides could block access to remote places.

Notes

(1) Local droughts are common in Afghanistan and have been addressed on a small scale by ad hoc decisions and global over the last two years. For details on this and the drought decisions in the period 1998-2004, see section 4: interventions/decisions of the Commission within the context of the crisis concerned herewith.

(2) Agriculture Prospects Report, Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Economics and Statistics Division (FAAHM), Kabul, 15 June 2006, http://www.agriculture.gov.af/fills/APR_June_06.pdf Confirmed during ECHO Kabul-WFP meeting on 12 September 2006.