Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented drought, threatening the lives of millions and crippling its economy. As a result, the country has been forced to ration food supplies and seek emergency aid from neighboring nations.

Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, is at risk of a severe drought that could put millions of lives at risk. The drought has been caused by the El Nino weather pattern and is worsened by poor farming practices.

KAJAKI, AFGHANISTAN (Reuters) – Niamatullah, an Afghan farmer who grew beans, wheat, and maize in Helmand region as violence raged around him, has survived almost two decades of warfare. It was because of the weather that he eventually decided to uproot his family and leave last month.

In Afghanistan, one of the worst droughts in decades ravaged the fields of the 38-year-old, who only goes by one name, leaving his crops wilted and useless. He thought he had no option but to load his 15-person extended family onto a leased vehicle and go to a less needy location in quest of day work.

Niamatullah stated, “Our children are weeping because there is nothing to eat.”

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Last month, farmer Niamatullah’s family fled their home in Kajaki, Afghanistan, in search of employment.

The severe drought this year is exacerbating an economic crisis that began when the Taliban toppled the last Afghan government, leading the United States and others to freeze $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets and causing a significant number of professionals to flee the country.

Water shortage is now cutting farmers’ earnings and pushing up food prices for city dwellers. The drought, according to the United Nations, is endangering the livelihoods of up to 9 million Afghans in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, harsh circumstances have already placed 14 million people—more than one-third of the Afghan population—in a food-security crisis. Due to the drought, Afghanistan’s current crop is projected to be 15% below normal, according to the FAO.

“This is the worst drought in 35-36 years,” said FAO’s country director in Afghanistan, Richard Trenchard. Following the Taliban takeover, “many governmental institutions that offer a public safety net have stopped to operate,” he added. “Farmers don’t have much to fall rely on.”

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Economic hardship, according to Mohammad Amir, a farmer from Dasht-e-Top, Afghanistan, may lead to rebellion.

The Wall Street Journal/Sune Engel Rasmussen

Afghanistan’s economy is largely dependent on weather-sensitive activities including rain-fed agriculture and livestock ranching. Villagers that are poor frequently lack the financial resources and technological capabilities to adapt to more contemporary and robust agricultural techniques. Climate change will exacerbate the problem.

According to Samim Hoshmand, a former senior climate negotiator for Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency, just around 12% of Afghanistan’s land is suitable for agricultural, while approximately 80% of the population depends on farming for life.

“The future will be a catastrophe if the drought and political turmoil persist,” Mr. Hoshmand warned.

Afghanistan’s new Taliban administration has yet to offer a strategy for creating employment or providing assistance to a populace that is increasingly impoverished. According to Afghan farmers, frustration over economic hardship may lead to rebellion.

“We’re going to wait six months.” “If conditions don’t improve, we’ll fight the Taliban,” said Mohammad Amir, a 45-year-old farmer from Dasht-e-Top, an arid plain west of Kabul in Wardak province. The region was formerly known for its delicious, crisp apples, but they have since dried up. There is no sign of water in a broad riverbed that runs beside the roadway. Farmers claim it’s been 20 years since they’ve seen snow.

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Construction is underway at the Kajaki Dam in Helmand province, which is generating much less power than it is capable of due to low water levels.

Drought has ramifications beyond agriculture. The Kajaki Dam in Helmand was constructed in the 1950s as part of an American effort to oppose Soviet influence in Afghanistan via economic projects patterned after the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Helmand Valley Authority was formed to improve irrigation and agricultural land development along the Helmand and Arghandab rivers. In the 1970s, the US converted Kajaki into a hydroelectric power plant, but the project was halted when the Soviet invasion in 1979 occurred.

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The project was resumed in 2004 and two turbines were renovated in an attempt to provide electricity to southern Afghanistan and entice the Taliban away with the promise of government-backed prosperity. Thousands of mainly British soldiers transported components for a third, 220-ton turbine through some of the country’s most hazardous terrain on trucks in 2008, but the equipment remained unassembled for a decade until being eventually placed in 2019.

According to Tufan zcag, program manager of the Turkish 77 Insaat construction firm, which is leading the renovation at Kajaki, the plant now generates 6 megawatts of energy, considerably below its potential of 51 megawatts.

Water shortage has previously sparked tensions with Iran, which gets water from the Helmand River after it passes through the sluices at Kajaki and over the border.

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Farmers in Dasht-e-Top, Afghanistan, claim they haven’t been able to grow any crops for years because of the dry riverbed.

The Wall Street Journal/Sune Engel Rasmussen

Iran accuses Afghanistan of stealing more water than the two nations agreed to share in a 1973 water deal. Security authorities in Afghanistan’s now-defunct government accused Iran of arming the Taliban in order to assault a dam project in Nimruz province that is intended to improve agriculture and irrigation but which Iran worries would suffocate water and dry up the Hamoun marshes on its side of the border.

According to Oli Brown, a senior research associate at Adelphi, a Berlin-based environmental think tank, and author of a climate risk brief on Afghanistan, climate change may “limit the supply of vital fresh water across Afghanistan’s borders, possibly increasing tensions with its neighbors.” “It may stimulate farmers in certain regions to cultivate poppy,” he said, adding that it could also speed up migration. Opium poppies need less water than most other crops to grow and may be more profitable.

Farmers in Dasht-e-Top, Wardak province, complained that they didn’t have wells, and that only a few wealthy farmers could afford solar panels to power irrigation.

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The Helmand River is a vital supply of water for agriculture and power generation in Afghanistan.

Rahima Wardak’s kid now picks tomatoes for $3 a day on one of those solar-panel powered farms, which is the family’s sole source of income. Ms. Wardak, a 50-year-old farmer, said she and her husband used to produce potatoes, onions, and carrots on their own property, but that their fields had now dried up. As they strolled through rows of withering apple trees, dead sticks crunched beneath their feet.

“Until two years ago, we could water a garden or two,” Ms. Wardak remarked. She bemoaned the fact that the area’s traditional underground irrigation tunnel system has been entirely dry since then.

“How are our boys going to be farmers?” As he stood amid his fading apricot trees, Mohammad Omar Jalalzai, Ms. Wardak’s 70-year-old husband, remarked, “They’ll have to find something else to do.”

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Farmer Mohammad Omar Jalalzai claimed he chopped the limbs off his almost dead apricot trees to prevent them from sucking up any rainwater that may fall.

The Wall Street Journal/Sune Engel Rasmussen

Sune Engel Rasmussen may be reached at [email protected]

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