On a recent Friday, Hajji Wali Jan took a half-dozen plastic containers to the well in Kamar Kalagh, one of the few days a week that he and those who reside on his side of this Afghan village are allowed to utilize the water supply.
When his turn came, the 66-year-old filled one container, then another. The spigot’s trickle of water became thinner. He began filling a new container, but the thread of water began to thin and eventually stopped before the vessel was completely filled.
The well has served its purpose for the day.
The greatest drought in decades in Afghanistan is now in its second year, aggravated by climate change. The drought has affected 25 of the country’s 34 provinces, and this year’s wheat crop is expected to be 20% lower than last year’s.
Along with conflict, the drought has forced more than 700,000 people to flee their homes this year, and the arrival of winter will further exacerbate the danger.
In a tweet Tuesday, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s Afghanistan office wrote, “This cumulative drought impact on already weakened populations might be yet another tipping point to tragedy.” “Agriculture might collapse if left neglected.”
Experts at the United Nations blamed a late 2020 La Nina event, which may alter weather patterns throughout the world, for lesser rain and snowfall in Afghanistan in early 2021, and forecast that it will persist into 2022.
Droughts have been a recurrent occurrence in Afghanistan for many years. However, the FAO cautioned in a 2019 study that climate change might make them more regular and intense. The drought this year followed one in 2018, which was the worst in Afghanistan in years at the time.
In the middle of the drought, Afghanistan’s economy collapsed following the Taliban’s takeover in August, which resulted in the closure of international financing to the government and the freezing of billions of dollars in foreign assets.
Families are in severe need of food since their jobs and livelihoods have vanished. According to the FAO, 18.8 million Afghans are unable to feed themselves on a daily basis, with that figure expected to rise to 23 million by the end of the year, accounting for roughly 60% of the population.
Small settlements like Kamar Kalagh are shriveling away, unable to squeeze out enough water to survive the drought of 2018.
Kamar Kalagh is a group of mud brick cottages in the highlands outside of Herat, home to roughly 150 people who used to subsist off of their livestock, notably camels and goats, and the wages of men who worked as porters at the Iran-Afghanistan border crossing.
That job has mostly dried up as well, and the village’s primary source of revenue is now sand sales.
On a recent day, Ajab Gul and his two young kids scooped sand from the riverbank and placed it into sacks. They will be paid around $2 for a full day’s labour.
Gul held his palm up to his nose and remarked, “The grass used to grow up to here.” “You could only see a camel’s head as he went through it.” That was more than two decades ago.”
There is no longer any grass and nearly no cattle.
When the village’s primary well ran dry two years ago, the inhabitants banded together to pay for it to be drilled deeper. It worked for a time. However, things quickly deteriorated. The locals instituted a rationing system in which half of the inhabitants may draw water one day and the other half the next.
Rationing is no longer sufficient. According to Wali Jan, the water from the well is just enough for roughly ten families every day.
Wali Jan dispatched two of his grandkids to a different supplier when he couldn’t fill his canisters. They made the work into a game by having the older child, who was approximately 9, push the wheelbarrow while his smaller brother laughed beside the canisters.
They traveled 3 kilometers (2 miles) up the hill, down the other side, and into another dry riverbed. The elder child slipped while walking in hand-me-down tennis shoes that were too big for his feet, and the wheelbarrow fell over. Despite this, they made it to a pool of stagnant water in the riverbed with a green algae-covered surface. They finished filling the containers.
When they returned to the village, they were greeted by their grandfather. To assist the lads in getting the wheelbarrow up the last incline to his family’s house, he unraveled his turban and wrapped one end of the long scarf over a handle on the front of the wheelbarrow.
Males are practically extinct in the community, with only the elderly and the very young living. The majority of working-age males have relocated to other parts of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, or Turkey in search of work.
“You don’t see anyone outdoors during the day anymore,” another guy in his 60s, Samar Gul, remarked. “Only women and children are allowed inside the houses.”