Severe drought and food price increases cause malnutrition and disease
Source: Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin)
August 15, 2008
Afghanistan is experiencing its most severe drought in eight years, with farming communities in the northern provinces being the hardest hit. In these areas where crops and livestock are dependent on rainfall rather than irrigation, an Afghan minister reported that 1.5 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian relief.
Droughts are a long-term rather than new phenomenon in Afghanistan, but there has been a marked increase in their frequency over recent years that officials have blamed on global warming. The accumulative effect of these cyclical droughts coupled with abnormally high summer temperatures have made 2008 an exceptionally bad year. Food shortages have further been exacerbated by the global rise in food prices and ongoing conflict.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), prices of basic foods like meat, cereals and dairy products rose by an average of 53 per cent from 2007 to 2008.
“Families are now finding themselves increasingly vulnerable to chronic malnutrition as the struggle to find affordable food becomes harder,” said Neva Khan, programme manager for Afghanistan.
Merlin is working alongside the Ministry of Health in the north eastern districts of Badakshan and Kunduz, in 58 health facilities. In these areas staff have witnessed a knock-on effect between poor diet and susceptibility to disease:
“We have seen cases of acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and measles in our clinics – these cases are likely to increase as the impact of drought and food shortage is felt more and more in these localities”, Neva Khan reported.
Lack of clean drinking water is also having direct implications on people’s health. With temperatures reaching over 40ºC, many springs and wells have dried up. Some families are having to walk for hours to find water, or in some cases drink dirty water from rivers, making them vulnerable to water borne diarrhoeal diseases.
Merlin is currently training community health workers to recognise and manage diseases caused by malnutrition and the lack of safe drinking water. We are also planning to work with the Ministry of Health to improve community water supplies and provide clean water to 38 local health facilities which do not have a clean water supply.