Drought in Afghanistan worsening

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is extremely concerned about the worsening drought in Afghanistan and the threat of mass displacement - possibly to Pakistan and Iran, which are also affected - unless the international community is able to mobilize emergency assistance for up to 2 million affected Afghans. There are already reports of small movements of people heading from one village to another in search of water in Afghanistan, which is suffering the worst drought in 30 years. But if the international community fails to respond to the emergency, some of these people may head for Pakistan and Iran, which have also been severely hit by the long dry spell. Without aid, it is likely that famine will ensue and the spectre of mass deaths cannot be ruled out.

UNHCR this week released $620,000 from its emergency reserve fund to pay for the consolidation of 48 drought-stricken refugee villages hosting 130,000 Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Baluchistan province. We will transfer them to eight villages where water remains available and where we will develop additional resources. If the refugees were to remain in the other 40 villages, we fear they would soon run out of water and would become a burden on drought-affected local residents. UNHCR is also looking for new water sources and digging wells that will not only benefit refugees but also local residents in Baluchistan. Pakistan hosts 1.2 million Afghan refugees and another 1.4 million are in Iran.

An inter-agency appeal for $67 million to fund urgent programmes for one year in the stricken regions of Afghanistan was issued on June 6. So far, $8.71 million has been pledged, but only $200,000 actually received. The appeal covers provision of food and potable water, deepening and digging of wells, support to farmers and prepositioning of relief supplies such as tents, kitchen sets and blankets.

The worst drought in Afghanistan since 1971 has already caused crop failures of from 40 to 100 percent and reduced livestock by 35 percent in affected areas. No rains are expected until November/December and no respite is likely until the summer of next year. UN agencies estimate that from 1.8 million to 2 million people could be uprooted by the drought. There are some 400,000 newly returned refugees and 260,000 internally displaced people of concern to UNHCR in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, the UNHCR-assisted repatriation of Afghans from Karachi and Quetta to the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Farah and Nimroz, has been put on hold.