AFGHANISTAN: Drought not floods more likely in 2008 – UNAMA
KABUL, 17 March 2008 (IRIN) – Despite widespread concern that millions could be vulnerable to seasonal flooding as a result of rapid thawing of unusually heavy winter snow, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has said it does not believe “severe floods” – as witnessed in 2007 – will occur in 2008.
“The technical evidence obtained from remote-sensing – satellite photography – and other sources shows that flooding on the scale of spring 2007 is very unlikely,” Charlie Higgins, head of UNAMA’s humanitarian affairs unit, told the media in Kabul on 17 March.
Parts of Afghanistan suffered the harshest winter in decades. Heavy snowfall and exceptionally low temperatures killed over 1,000 people and hundreds of thousands of livestock, according to Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) figures.
In February a national emergency commission – made up of several government and non-governmental bodies – warned that 21 out of the country’s 34 provinces were “vulnerable” to spring floods. The warning had prompted aid agencies to plan for a possible humanitarian emergency.
However, UNAMA’s latest findings show that warm weather since mid-February has already melted up to 70 percent of the snow in areas which experienced exceptionally heavy snowfall in the past several months.
The current “snow-water equivalent” is 25 percent less than average – and 90 percent less than in 2007 – which indicates that the amount of water stored in the snowpack is low for this time of year, UNAMA said.
“This does not bode well for the main ‘Aram’ [wheat] crop, which is planted in different areas from August to October and will be harvested in 2009,” said Higgins, adding that 80 percent of water used for irrigation comes from surface sources.
According to UNAMA, farmers in the northern provinces of Faryab, Badakhshan and Balkh will probably face shortages of irrigation water even in the first cultivation season, which will negatively affect the staple crop harvest in 2008.
“Farmers are right to be concerned about drought,” Higgins said.
Parts of Afghanistan, particularly southern, western and southwestern provinces, have already faced years of drought, which has devastated the livelihoods of many agriculture-and-livestock-dependent communities.
Humanitarian agencies are concerned that drought will worsen the plight of the eight million or so food-insecure people in the country.