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World News

Afghan drought ‘displacing more people than Taliban conflict’



A deadly drought in Afghanistan is causing a humanitarian crisis that has displaced more people this year than the war between the government and the Taliban. The BBC’s Secunder Kermani reports from Herat.

Shadi Mohammed, 70, wells up with tears as he walks through the makeshift camp on the outskirts of the western city of Herat, where he lives with his family.

“We are thirsty and hungry. We took what little we could with us, but lost most of it on the way. Now we have nothing. Eight of us live in this small tent,” he says.

“My wife and my brother died. Half of our children are here. The other half were left behind.”

Mr Mohammed is one of an estimated 260,000 people who have been forced from their homes in northern and western Afghanistan because of a severe drought in the region.

The drought is adding to the misery in the country where levels of violence have been increasing since 2014 when international forces formally ended their combat mission.

The Taliban are now reported to control more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since the US led invasion which drove them from power in 2001.

But the UN says that this year, the drought has displaced more Afghans than even the conflict between the Taliban and the government.

Qadir Assemy from the United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) is helping co-ordinate the relief effort in Herat, which has seen an influx of people fleeing their homes.

“It’s very challenging because of the scale of the disaster,” he tells the BBC.

The UN is allocating $34.6m to help the 2.2 million people who are estimated to have been affected by the drought.

At present, the UNWFP is distributing money for people to buy food.

Outside a registration centre, many seem desperate.

One woman sitting with four young children tells me she has recently arrived from the northern province of Faryab.

“If we had any money we would have never come here. Our bad luck brought us here,” she says.

“There was no rain for more than a year. Everything dried up. We didn’t even have water to give to our children. On top of that there was fighting between the Taliban and the army. It was chaos.”

Others described being forced to sell their livestock or borrow money simply to survive. Agriculture is one of the country’s main sources of income.

The country is currently preparing for long-delayed parliamentary elections scheduled for 20 October.

But many Afghans complain that their political leaders are too detached from the issues facing them.

The tens of thousands of people in Herat certainly have a more pressing concern at hand – the impending arrival of the cold winter months.

Mr Assemy believes the cold weather is “a major concern” as it seems unlikely that the displaced people will be able to return to their homes in the coming months.

“The weather will be very harsh. This population will not be able to survive in tents,” he says.

“We haven’t seen such a large scale disaster in the last 18 years.”

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