Drought in Afghanistan serious, but elusive

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The drought that has hit Afghanistan, as well as the whole of Central Asia, is still difficult to assess. Several indicators point towards severe food shortages in a few months, but getting clear data has proven to be very difficult, according to MSF.

The situation is indicating a move towards a higher level of food crisis in certain areas. "What we see, for instance, is that no food stocks are being prepared for the coming winter, which is the custom in several rural areas", said health advisor Christa Hook.

There are positive indicators in that prices of wheat in the market have not risen dramatically compared to recent years. In the last couple of weeks however, population flows are on the increase from Ghor and Badghis province toward the IDP camps in Herat.

At the same time, MSF teams in Ghurian have clear indications that the food situation is worsening. The children treated in the mother-and-child healthcare program often do not recover when they are sent home, which indicates that there is not enough food for them. Ghurian is the only location from where MSF has base-line data, with which reliable estimates can be made. At the other project-sites, the instruments are either lacking or the data-gathering has started too recently to give a clear picture.

From the Bala Morghab region, anecdotal reports have come in about malnourished adults. In this region, Oxfam is planning a nutritional survey, which is complicated to carry out due to cultural barriers regarding access to households.

Further complicating the picture is the return from Iran of large numbers of refugees and an increasing lack of security in the west of the country. MSF is continuing to lobby food-agencies, while enhancing the surveillance mechanisms. Also MSF will soon start a preventive vaccination campaign as well as establish supplementary feeding centres.