Drought wreaks havoc in northern Afghanistan
Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
July 29, 2008
By Ali Hakim, IFRC communications officer in Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan
A harsh winter followed by a hot and dry spring season has multiplied the challenges and hardships of villagers in north Afghanistan.
The lack of rain and drinking water are taking a toll on precious livestock, farming lands have gradually dried up and many farmers have lost their harvest. For these reasons, many people in the Alborz district have abandoned their homes and travelled many kilometers to reach Cheshma-e-Shafa, 34 km south-west of Mazar-e-Sharif city.
Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) volunteers and its emergency mobile unit (EMU) were the first to arrive in Cheshma-e-Shafa to meet these internally displaced persons (IDPs) and respond to their needs.
When the Red Crescent personnel arrived, they found that the area was covered with hundreds of small and large tents. Though the hot weather and dusty winds were making their lives miserable, these IDPs had no choice because nothing remained in their villages.
‘It was 10.30pm when we arrived in Cheshma-e-Shafa,’ said Dr Mohammad Rafi Hakimzade, ARCS regional health officer for the northern region. ‘Yet, as soon as we made our first medical camp, there was a rush for assistance among the IDPs.’
Initially, four camps were established to cater to the massive needs of the IDPs. ‘Malnutrition, acute bloody diarrhoea and sunstroke were among the top widespread health problems,’ he added.
Khoda Rahm Ziyai, a community-based first aid (CBFA) trainer, and volunteer Mohammad Navid Behroz, together with 19 others, worked around the clock.
‘We noticed an obvious lack of awareness about sanitation techniques among the people. Therefore, we decided to send volunteers to the area to teach sanitation methods. We even went to the IDPs’ home villages, in Alborz district, to teach those who had remained,’ added Behroz.
Traders and the local community in Balkh province contributed food and medicines worth more than 122,000 Swiss francs to the affected people. This warm welcome allowed ARCS to speed up its assistance to the vulnerable people.
‘We get our drinking water from remote areas which take something like seven or eight hours to reach. Earlier, we used donkeys as our means of transportation but unfortunately, due to the lack of food and water, they have been lost as well,’ said 55-year-old Abdul Qader, one of the IDPs in Cheshma-e-Shafa.
‘Here in Cheshma-e-Shafa, the ARCS has taken up the responsibility to protect our health and we feel that their aid is vital to our wellbeing.’
After nearly one month of a challenging operation, the government and other humanitarian agencies have begun to help the IDPs in their original locations, which has made it possible for some to return to their homes. In total, more than 2,126 patients have been treated by the ARCS EMU team, its clinic doctors and volunteers.
In response to the drought, which has spread across many parts of Afghanistan, the Afghan government and United Nations are launching an appeal for more than 413 million Swiss francs. The priorities of the appeal are food security, nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene, health, agriculture and protection. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is involved in the technical committee as an observer, and the ARCS will be one of the implementing agencies.