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Press Release

Millions at risk of displacement as Afghanistan faces extreme drought, warns IRC

Last updated 
  • 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 IRC 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,livestocks 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

Severe drought in Afghanistan could trigger the displacement of thousands of families, according to the latest IRC assessment across five provinces in the West, South and East of the country. This comes during an alarming increase in violence in recent weeks, with attacks on civilians including women and aid workers causing fresh instability throughout much of the country.

With 80% of Afghans relying upon rain-fed agriculture and cattle-grazing for their incomes, livelihoods are set to be decimated as a drastic decrease in rainfall has caused food and water scarcity across the country. At the same time, an increase in fighting has also broken out in several of the worst drought affected areas, particularly in Helmand province, ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops in the country. The coincidence of devastating drought and a steady increase in violence threatens a devastating economic downturn and greater instability.  

Nasir Rizaee, IRC Afghanistan Deputy Director, said:

“This drought and potential displacement is yet another fresh trauma for Afghanistan, which is reeling from the shockwaves of COVID-19. The effects will be especially intense and far reaching: nearly half of the population is already experiencing food insecurity and people are struggling to make ends meet. Already, 98% of people the IRC assessed have noticed a rapid increase in food prices as the drought has worsened, and the decrease in the production of vital crops will cause a severe economic downturn, felt most keenly by vulnerable families who will be unable to access food as prices increase to unattainable levels.

“There is a very real risk that millions of people will be pushed into an emergency, as we saw in 2018 where more than a quarter of a million Afghans were displaced as a result of drought. Alongside food insecurity we also expect to see cases of malnutrition rise significantly, especially among infants and young children.

“As we tackle the immense fallout left by the drought, conflict and COVID-19, the international community must do more to acknowledge that Afghanistan represents the modern face of humanitarian crisis. Conflict, insecurity and climate change are already impacting entire populations and the need for bold and urgent action to be taken by world leaders to safeguard the health and safety of people bearing the brunt of this triple threat could not be more clear.”

According to IRC analysis, people in Herat, Badghis, Pakitya, Helmand and Khost provinces will be worst affected, with 83% of those assessed reported seeing community members leaving to find better access to food and water in the last three months. Those surveyed reported a lack of food (34%), loss of livelihoods (29%), water sources drying up (13%) and conflict (13%) as the major reasons for leaving. Many were also impacted by the 2018 drought that left a quarter of a million people displaced.

40% of respondents are already seeing the impact of running out of water and many locations, such as Helmand, are hosting large numbers of internally displaced people who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of food insecurity. Families are likely to resort to extreme measures of survival, and child marriage and child labour are at risk of increasing as 3% of those who took part in the drought assessment would consider marrying off their daughter in order to secure an income for their families.

To help improve resilience to the impacts of drought and climate change in Afghanistan, the IRC provides cash assistance to households worst affected by food insecurity, and also delivers climate smart agriculture programming, which teaches rural communities how to access sustainable livelihoods such as improved planting methods and the growing of climate-adapted varieties of crops.

To read the full assessment, click here.

The IRC began work in Afghanistan in 1988, launching relief programs for people displaced by the invasion of the Soviet Union. We now work with thousands of villages across nine provinces, with Afghans making up more than 99% of IRC staff in the country. As Afghanistan struggles to recover from ongoing conflict and natural disasters, the IRC: works with local communities to identify, plan and manage their own development projects, provides safe learning spaces in rural areas, community based education, cash distribution provides uprooted families with tents, clean water, sanitation and other basic necessities, and helps people find livelihood opportunities as well as extensive resilience programming.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.