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Afghanistan: Drought - Feb 2021

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Afghanistan has been experiencing below-normal rainfall since October 2020. Such conditions are expected to continue through the first half of 2021 in the country according to forecasters. The conditions have affected the winter season snow accumulation, which is critical for water access during the spring and summer agricultural seasons. It is anticipated that the situation will have an impact on both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture/livestock, as well as on the availability of water for drinking, washing, and sanitation. Mid-March through to the end of July will likely be the peak period during which drought impacts on crops and livestock (agricultural drought) would manifest. The wheat production deficit is expected to be 16 to 27 per cent this year and as a result, requiring increased top-up from international suppliers. Such drivers would further affect communities already suffering from the ongoing economic crises exacerbated by the secondary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including high prices of basic commodities, conflict, and food insecurity.

The ongoing food insecurity situation is very much worse than the previous years. According to the IPC report, from November 2019 to March 2020, 2,695,000 people were in IPC phase 4 and 8,591,000 people were in IPC phase 3. Based on the same IPC report (produced recently by Food Security Cluster and Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock), between November 2020 and March 2021 – a period that corresponds to the lean season –around 13.15 million people (42% of the total population) have been experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above), out of which nearly 4.3 million people are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and an estimated 8.85 million people are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Moreover, only five provinces of the country were in IPC phase 4 in the first quarter of 2020, but by March 2021, 10 provinces of the country are classified in IPC phase 4. (IFRC, 19 Mar 2021)

Nearly 11 million people in Afghanistan are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above) due to conflict, COVID-19, high food prices and rampant unemployment, between March and May 2021 (the lean season in most parts of the country.) This includes around 7.8 million people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and 3.2 million people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and require urgent action to save lives, reduce food gaps and save and protect livelihoods. Between June and November 2021 (harvest and post-harvest seasons), a slight improvement in food security is expected, with the number of people in IPC Phase 3 or above decreasing to 9.5 million, with 6.7 million in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and 2.7 million in IPC Phase 4 (Emergency). The areas that were in Phase 4 in the current analysis period are expected to remain in Phase 4 in the projection period, despite slight seasonal improvements. It is likely that household’s food access will improve slightly with the onset of the harvest, better job opportunities, as well as seasonal decreases in prices; however, rainfall forecasts suggest that the harvest will be below average, which will likely affect food availability during the following lean season. The food security situation has relatively improved compared to the last three years, aside from the impacts of drought in 2018 and the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. However, the food security situation is still concerning and expected to deteriorate further during the 2021-2022 lean season. (IPC, 22 Apr 2021)

As per a multi-sectoral needs’ analysis conducted by the Inter Cluster Country Team (ICCT), 25 provinces are estimated to be highly impacted by drought, although the drought has not yet been officially declared by the government of Afghanistan. The impact of the climatic events, storm-related flooding, conflict, and COVID-19 will vary across regions based on the degree to which these phenomena manifest and interact with pre-existing vulnerabilities in various locations The drought will likely result in nearly an additional 110,000 children who will be severely acutely malnourished and at risk of dying. Along with recent increases due to worsening insecurity and COVID-19, there will be nearly 1 million children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in Afghanistan over the next year. (UNICEF, 31 May 2021)

Drastic reduction in rainfall has caused levels of food and water scarcity across 25 provinces in Afghanistan not seen since the drought of 2018 that displaced a quarter of a million people. An International Rescue Committee assessment of drought impact in Herat, Badghis, Pakitya, Helmand and Khost provinces has shown that 83% of 484 people interviewed are already experiencing displacement within their communities. Interviewees said that some families are being pushed towards extreme survival measures such as selling off their assets, livestock reducing the number of meals, and child marriage. 75% respondents reported an increase in conflict arising in areas where water supplies have depleted. 81% of participants with children under the age of 5 reported diarrhea and illness owing to a lack of clean water. (IRC, 15 Jun 2021)

On 22 June, the Government of Afghanistan officially declared a drought in the country. Little snow pack accumulation over the winter months and low rainfall in recent weeks resulted in drought conditions, low crop yields and rising food prices in the southern, eastern and western parts of the country. In the South, farmers in Kandahar Province are reporting water shortages which are threatening agricultural outputs. In the East, reduced food production is expected to contribute to an already dire food security situation exacerbated by the effects of La Niña and a continued dry spell. In the West, the provinces of Hirat, Badghis and Ghor are facing either extreme or severe drought conditions and humanitarian partners are assisting vulnerable people with food, water, sanitation and hygiene, cash and the rehabilitation of water sources. In the North-East region, drought does not pose an immediate threat at present, but forecasted water shortages may affect 60 per cent of farmers (about 586,000 people) in 12 districts during the upcoming agricultural seasons beginning in September 2021. The declaration of the drought comes at a time when Afghanistan is experiencing a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases and intensifying conflict against the background of ongoing peace talks and the withdrawal of US forces. In total, more than 12 million people – about one third of the population – are facing high levels of acute food insecurity due to high food prices, conflict, COVID-19, and widespread unemployment. (OCHA, 28 Jun 2021)

According to the Pre-Lean Season Assessment (PLSA), conducted across the country in Quarter 1 of 2021, on average, cereal stocks of the prior harvest lasted only five months for the entire households interviewed. Across all areas, only a small proportion (10 per cent) of households reported having cereal stocks from their products that would last till the next harvest. Access to wheat seeds remained a significant challenge. According to PLSA, 81 per cent of farmers did not have access to certified wheat seeds to cultivate their lands during the last season. PLSA findings show that in rural areas, 53 per cent of people generate income from agriculture, while in the urban areas, only 9 percent of people do. Economic access to food is seriously compromised because of a significant increase in prices. Overall, an estimated 10-20 per cent price increase has been observed compared with the same period of the last five years. The increase is mainly due to the drought, COVID-19 related impacts, steadily accelerating year-on-year inflation and seasonal changes. To further compound the situation, the PLSA indicated a reduction in income for 75 per cent of people and an increase in debt. Around 73 per cent of households reported having debt, and 74 per cent cited food as the main reason for borrowing. With the increasing dependency on the market due to relatively lower production, increased prices, and debt, financial access to food is constrained for most households, as evidenced by the livelihood coping strategy. One out of five households (20 per cent) adopted Emergency livelihood coping strategies, and 24 per cent resorted to Crisis livelihood coping strategies to mitigate their food consumption gaps. Moreover, the above-mentioned issues are compounded with years of conflict and instability that have caused livelihood disruption and displacements. Despite efforts for a peace deal, this has not yet translated into a sustained reduction in violence. In the first half of 2021, an estimated 140,691 people have been displaced. Internal displacement was limited to new IDPs. Still, IDPs from previous years were unable to return to their places of origin mainly because of continued conflict, loss of livelihoods, and a lack of economic opportunities. (IFRC, 12 Jul 2021)

According to the government, in 2021, the country’s wheat crop will be reduced by nearly two million tons due to this. More than three million livestock are also in danger of death due to lack of fodder and water. The drought has also exacerbated the hard living conditions in a country that is grappling with escalating conflict, COVID-19 and crippling poverty. COVID-19 cases have steadily risen since mid-May 2021, with compounding socioeconomic impacts. Moreover, the years of conflict and instability have caused livelihood disruption and displacements. Despite efforts for a peace deal, this has not yet translated into a sustained reduction in violence. In the first half of 2021, an estimated 140,691 people have been displaced due to armed clashes. Still, internally displaced people (IDPs) from previous years are unable to return to their places of origin mainly because of continued conflict, loss of livelihoods, and a lack of economic opportunities. The ongoing complex humanitarian emergencies – with the drought being the worst – in the country have not only increased the vulnerability but have severely impacted the living conditions and livelihoods in many parts of the country. The impacted populations are in need of emergency food assistance, lifesaving health care, and means to restore and protect their livelihoods. Currently, around 11 million people are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity due to conflict, COVID-19, high food prices, and rampant unemployment. (IFRC, 3 Aug 2021)

Needs assessments and response such as health, nutrition, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene activities continued across the country. In the last week, 44,000 people received humanitarian aid in the north-east, while 22,000 people affected by drought received humanitarian assistance in the north. Decades of conflict and a severe drought has exacerbated the situation for vulnerable people. The economic situation continues to be of major concern in terms of the continuity of basic services and impact on the most vulnerable people. Price increases of staples continue to be reported along with scarcity of basic commodities which will impact overall humanitarian needs going forward. (OCHA, 30 Aug 2021)

In a drought declaration by the government on 22 June 2021, the country’s wheat crop will be reduced by nearly two million tons. Additionally, more than three million livestock are in danger of perishing due to a lack of fodder and water. The winter season will start in October with a potential for severe impact on drought-affected and displaced people whose coping capacities are already weakened. The compounding impacts of drought and conflict which escalated in July and the first half of August have exacerbated the hard living conditions in a country that is also grappling with COVID-19 and poverty. (IFRC, 6 Sep 2021)

During the reporting period (1–15 September), 177,500 drought affected-people in Balkh and Nimroz provinces were assisted with water trucking. Water trucking is a last resort option to avoid displacements in areas where people rely on rainwater due to unavailability of potable water or due to high salinity groundwater [...] Afghanistan is currently facing the second drought in four years and consequent water scarcity which is impacting a third of the country. The WASH Cluster stress that the current drought is first and foremost a water scarcity crisis. In addition to the precipitation forecast, there is urgent need to set up a nationwide groundwater monitoring systems to closely follow the water levels across the country. (OCHA, 23 Sep 2021)

In September and October 2021 (the post-harvest season), nearly 19 million people in Afghanistan experienced high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above), an almost 30% increase from the same season last year (14.5 million people). The main drivers of acute food insecurity include drought and its impacts on crops and livestock, the collapse of public services, a severe economic crisis and increasing food prices. An estimated 6.8 million people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and 11.9 million people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) require urgent action to save their lives, reduce food gaps and protect their livelihoods. Between November 2021 and March 2022 (the winter lean season), a further deterioration in food security is expected, with the number of people in IPC Phase 3 or above increasing to 22.8 million, a nearly 35% increase from the same season last year (16.9m). Out of 22.8 million people, 14 million will likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and 8.7 million in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). The number of areas in Emergency is expected to significantly increase in the projection analysis period from 21 to 32 analytical domains. It is likely that household food access between the end of winter and the following spring season will further deteriorate due to: the continuing La Niña climatic episode bringing below-average winter precipitation for the second consecutive year, the impact of high food prices, sanctions on the de facto authorities, growing unemployment and possibly increased displacement. Reduced incomes, lower international and domestic remittances and continuing obstacles to humanitarian assistance (many related to the financial crisis and limited physical access during the winter period) are expected to contribute to the deterioration of food security. (IPC, 25 Oct 2021)

During the reporting period (1 September–31 October), WASH Cluster partners assisted 198,656 drought-affected people across Balkh, Badghis, Kandahar, Hilmand and Wardak province with water trucking to avoid displacement. The country is currently facing the second drought in four years and the worst of its kind in 27 years. The recently updated Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis shows the food security situation has further deteriorated with worrying implications for the winter lean season ahead. [...] In rural areas, this is largely driven by the drought. Assessments show that even after harvest, 57 per cent of households do not have food reserves that would last for 3 months. In urban areas, income loss (driven by economic shocks) has contributed to the rapid deterioration in food insecurity. 10 out of 11 most densely populated urban areas are anticipated to be in IPC 4 (Emergency). (OCHA, 3 Nov 2021)

Between 1 September and 15 November, UN and partners provided 7.2 million people with food assistance; reached more than 880,000 people with primary and secondary health-care consultations; they assisted almost 199,000 drought-affected people through water trucking; and treated more than 178,000 children under five for acute malnutrition. Afghanistan’s Flash Appeal seeking $606 million to help 11 million people most in need in the last four months of 2021 is 100 per cent funded. However, all financial commitments have not been translated into actions on the ground, due to financial system challenges amid the cash and liquidity crisis. (OCHA, 22 Nov 2021)