Children and women hit hardest by drought

In Afghanistan, around 2.3 million people are impacted by the drought.

By Monica Awad
Asma,35 and her child
UNICEF Afghanistan/2018/Sherzai
17 September 2018

Herat, Afghanistan, 17 September 2018 -  Alam, 35. and her four children are bearing the brunt of the disasters that hit their hometown Badghis, northwest of Afghanistan.   Already torn by decades of violence, the family was grappling with drought, leaving nothing behind.

“We had no water, no food, and the children were terrified by the violence,” says Alam with sadness.

In Afghanistan, around 2.3 million people are impacted by the drought.  According to OCHA,  a 70 per cent rainfall deficit in most parts of Afghanistan  had affected winter harvests, and resulted in grim prospects for the spring and summer.

In the 20 provinces most affected by drought, nearly 15 million people rely on farming, livestock or labour opportunities in agriculture. 

The drought coupled with insecurities presented an unprecedented blow to Alam’s family, forcing her 42-year old husband Lal Mohammad, to leave the country.  As a farmer in dire straits, he had no choice, but to leave his family behind and travel to neighbouring Iran, in search of a job. 

Grasping at straws

As the situation worsened, Alam, and her four children could no longer withstand the drought, nor the intensified fighting. 

“My children were constantly crying,” says Alam. 

“They were scared by the sounds of the cross-fire, and they were always hungry.”

With thousands of other families, Alam and her children moved to Herat, a province in the western region of Afghanistan.  She moved with her uncle Kamal Eddin, who is looking after her and her four children.

 “I arrived to this area one month after my husband left to Iran,” says Alam pointing to a large area where hundreds of tents have been installed haphazardly on golden brown soil.  “It has been four months since I last saw my husband.”

Nestled in a tent made out of cheap thin fabric that cannot withstand the harsh weather, Alam and her four children spend their day hiding from the scorching heat and dusty wind.

 “Life here is very rough,” says Alam.  “But, in comparison to where we came from, at least we have water and bread, and we are spared from the conflict.”

Through financial support from UK Department for International Development (DFID); Governments of Australia and Bulgaria, UNICEF is tankering 650,000 litres of water per day.  UNICEF also installed more than 460 latrines in support of 12,000 internally displaced families, like that of Alam.

 “I am happy that we have some water,” says Alam.  “But this is not enough, we need proper shelter food, medicine and schools for our children.”

 In the tent, Alam is sitting on an old colourful cushion, smoothly swinging the bassinet where her sick 8-month old baby Shafique is laying down.  Sadly, Shafique looks frail, fatigued and unable to react like other babies his age.

Alam is breast feeding her baby boy Shafique, yet he is not getting much food. 

“My milk is not sufficient for my baby,” she says.  “The whole family is surviving on water and bread and this is not proper food for my four children.”

Alam, 35 with her four children
UNICEF Afghanistan/2018/Zaeem

From distress to hope

On a Wednesday morning, a UNICEF-supported mobile health clinic visits the area.  Her uncle Kamal Eddin decided to take Alam and her baby for a check-up.    After screening the infant, Shafique was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.

Alam was provided with ready to use therapeutic food, and was guided on how to better feed her infant.

“At this mobile clinic, I receive more than 100 patients each day, most of them are young children,” says Dr. Nasser Ahmad Timoori, mobile health team physician.  “The vast majority are suffering from malnutrition and diarrhea as result of their dire living conditions.”

By midday, the mobile health team, funded by DFID and Australian Government, screened more than 100 children, out of which 30 children were suffering from malnutrition.  This is double the World Health Organisation classification of global acute malnutrition as serious, standing  at 10-14.9 per cent. 

After receiving medical care for her baby, Alam felt that she was among the lucky women.

“I am so happy that I went to the health team,” says Alam. 

“I will do whatever it takes to make sure that my son Shafique feels better.”

Giving up is not part of Alam’s vocabulary.  Despite the distress, and as a mother of four, she still has hope.  She yearns for a better future for her children.

“I never went to school,” says Alam with a grin.  “But, all I want for my four children is to go to school and be able to earn a good living in the future.”