Children struggle for survival
Drought and insecurities worsen living conditions for children in Afghanistan
Herat / Daykundi, Afghanistan, 26 June 2018 - Rahima and her six children moved from their home in Tamazon, a village in Daykundi province to the city, in search of water.
“I moved from Tamazon to Daykundi city because we had no water,” says Rahima, who moved to the city with her family six weeks ago. “We lost everything, and we came here seeking shelter, and water.”
The prolonged dry spell and very low precipitation is severely impacting most vulnerable children and their families, like Rahima, who reside in the north western, and central regions of Afghanistan.
“Life here is not any better,” Rahima says dolefully. With limited employment opportunities, her husband left the family behind, in search of work. Rahima was had no choice but to look for work to feed her six children. “I clean houses, but it is not enough to cover our expenses.”
Taking a toll on children’s livelihoods and survival
Crops and livestock, starved of water, have died, leaving many families food insecure. With one third of the population in Afghanistan being food insecure, the dry spell is further exacerbating the already fragile living conditions for children and families.
“Children are already vulnerable because of insecurity, and now, they are at risk from a new crisis that could severely impact their lives,” says Adele Khodr, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan. “Across the 20 provinces most affected by drought, children are at higher risk of water shortages, malnutrition, and disease.”
As farmers, whose sole income generation is dependent on agriculture, drought has eroded parents’ coping mechanism. They can no longer feed properly their children.
“The drought has destroyed everything,” yells 55-year old Khair Mohammad, in frustration. A father of seven children, who is no longer able to feed his children.
“This year we had little rain, and as farmers, we cannot survive without water,” he adds angrily. Khair had cultivated almost 100 kilograms of wheat and used 100 kilograms of fertilisers, in anticipation of gaining returns on his investment. Instead, he harvested nothing. To survive, his children had no choice but to drop out-of-school in search of work.
Eroding coping mechanisms
The protracted and evolving conflict, coupled with drought have made the lives of children and their families unbearable.
Abdul Ghafor is one of 3.7 million children who is out-of-school as a result of the impact of the conflict. “I completed 4th grade, but due to the fighting, our school was completely destroyed,” he adds with a grin.
And now, he and his family are facing additional threats due to drought. “We left Bala Mughran district in Badghis because of the drought. There is no one living there now,” says 14-year old Abdul Ghafor. Forced to abandon his home and his friends, he and his family had no choice but to move further south to Herat, one of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan.
Already, one third of children in Afghanistan are suffering from psychosocial distress. Insecurity and drought combined put children like Abdul Ghafor at an array of new protection risks, including violence, abuse and exploitation.
“Our priority is to prevent the situation from worsening,” says Khodr. “Children across the country have endured enormous suffering, and we need to help them to cope better with the situation around them,” she adds.
Resilience and hope
Despite the worsening situation for these children and their families, there is hope.
“I want to return back to school,’ says Abdul Ghafor with a smile. “I want to become a teacher and teach other children when I grow up,” he adds.
Abdul Ghafor’s wishes were echoed by Rahima who hopes to enroll her six children in school. “I want my children to learn and become future doctors, engineers and teachers,” she says with hope.
To meet the urgent needs of children and their families, UNICEF is tankering safe drinking water and is digging new water wells to meet the need of an estimated 525,000 affected children.
“With partners, we are providing basic needs for children and their families in Afghanistan,” says Khodr. “Yet, more should be done to restore a sense of normality to their abnormal lives.”