The climate crisis poses a serious risk to all Afghan children whose families or communities survive on farming-nearly 13.2 million children[i], with current drought and unseasonal summer floods wiping out crops, killing livestock, drastically reducing vital food supplies and diminishing water sources.
This year’s spring rains were the lowest they have been in five years and now the country’s reservoirs and other groundwater sources are drying up. With the coming wet season forecast to fail, the country’s unprecedented drought is now predicted to stretch into 2023[ii]. Meanwhile, summer floods in other areas of the country have destroyed 85,000 acres of crops and killed 7,500 livestock, further worsening the situation[iii].
About 27.8 million people live in rural areas in Afghanistan, mostly on farms, and are likely to face increased threats from climate shocks due to their reliance on agriculture and livestock for survival. The current catastrophic combination of extreme drought, floods and the economic crisis mean many farming families are on the brink of starvation and are turning to drastic measures to put food on the table.
Malnutrition cases in children under five have increased in Save the Children’s mobile clinics by almost 50% compared with January 2022, with doctors struggling to keep up with the surge in demand for treatment. With winter approaching and food stores drastically below what they should be after the summer harvest season, Save the Children warned that the next few months would be critical for children, who are bearing the brunt of the hunger crisis.
Access to clean water is also becoming more difficult by the day, with children walking for hours to collect water for their families or in some cases, drinking dirty water, exposing them to deadly water-borne diseases such as acute watery diarrhoea. A recent countrywide assessment found 80% of households in rural areas and 75% of households in urban areas don’t have enough water for drinking, cooking and bathing[iv].
Child labour is also on the rise[v], with desperate parents taking their children out of school and sending them to work on the streets, in other people’s homes, factories and mines to make up for the income they have lost due to the drought or floods.
Fahim*, 10, lives with his parents and his grandfather, Sohail* in one of the hardest to reach areas in Balkh province in northern Afghanistan. The drought has devastated their lives, forcing them to sell off their assets just to buy food to survive.
Fahim said: “The drought has negatively impacted on my life. I can't go to school very often because I spend time collecting clean drinking water. It takes me a lot of time and I don’t like it. In the past, water sources were close to our house but now they have dried up.
“The drought has reduced our family’s income and when we don't have money, we can't afford to buy the food we need. It’s had a negative impact on my brother’s health. He is malnourished because we can't feed him properly.”
Sohail said: “Two years ago, there was rain, and we had enough water for irrigation, and we had a good life. In the last two years, there has been no rain and not enough water for irrigation and when we sow any crops in the fields, we cannot harvest anything.
“Given we haven’t been able to grow anything on our land, we have sold all our livestock and we don’t have any cows and calves left. We sold them to provide some money to meet the needs of the family. In the past, when we had enough good food, our children were healthy, but now they look like skeletons.”
Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Chris Nyamandi, said:
“Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events in Afghanistan, and families have no way of getting back on their feet before the next disaster hits. Add the current economic crisis to this situation, and families are hanging on by a thread.
“With winter approaching, Save the Children is extremely concerned about families hit by the drought and floods and how they will survive the icy temperatures without their normal food stocks and without enough income to pay for heating and winter clothes for their children.
“There is no doubt that climate change is making the crisis in Afghanistan far more extreme. Leaders currently meeting at the COP27 summit must commit to bringing tangible change to the daily lives of children in Afghanistan who are suffering right now from the impacts of the climate crisis. Not only do they need immediate humanitarian funding to help them survive the winter, they also need longer-term funding to help them adapt and cope with the changing environment.”
Save the Children is calling on world leaders at COP27 to ensure there is a focus on children’s rights and equity while making critical decisions that will affect children’s futures. The child rights organisation is also calling on governments to support the creation of a new loss and damage climate finance mechanism to help address the cost of the impacts of the climate crisis to children’s rights. This includes supporting communities already hit by climate impacts, such as children in Afghanistan.
MEDIA CONTACT: Mala Darmadi on 0425562113
NOTES TO EDITORS:
[i] About 70% of Afghanistan’s population live and work in rural areas, mostly on farms, and 61% of all households derive income from agriculture according to Jobs from Agriculture in Afghanistan by the World Bank. Thus, 70% of the total population - 27.8 million people, including 13.2 million children – are likely to face increased threats from extreme weather due to their reliance – or their community’s reliance – on farming for survival. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s population is 39.8 million people (2021, accessed on 28 Oct 2022) and UNICEF reports that 47.7% of the population – or 18.9 million children - are under the age of 15 in Afghanistan (page 4, 2021). 13.2 million is 70% of 18.9 million, thus 70% of children in Afghanistan are at risk from the climate crisis.
- Fahim* and Sohail’s* story and photos can be accessed here: www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2SDJ0CA0
- *Names changed to protect identities
- Since the Taliban regained control in August 2021, Save the Children has scaled up its response to support the increasing number of children in need. Delivering health, nutrition, education, child protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene and food security and livelihoods support. Save the Children has reached more than 3.3 million people, including 1.8 million children since September 2021.
[ii] FEED the FUTURE which is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative stated in the Ongoing Multi-Season Drought in Afghanistan “Perhaps a Harbinger of Things to Come”.
[iii] Afghanistan: Snapshot of Flash Floods in 2022 (as of 31 August 2022) by OCHA
[iv] REACH Whole of Afghanistan Assessment, Sept 2022, page 12.
[v] REACH Whole of Afghanistan Assessment, Sept 2022, page 15