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Drought in Ghazni, HelmandWritten by Asadullah Jalalzai in Ghazni and Saleh Mohammad Wahdat in Helmand
Saturday, 15 October 2011 10:24
An estimated eight million people are affected.
Drought in some parts of Ghazni has forced farmers to move off their lands.
Ghulam Hazrat from Zana Khan district who has migrated to Ghazni city, says his family could not cultivate their rain-fed lands because the rains failed this year.
"There is no water (for farming) in Ghazni," he says. "People have to go many kilometres for drinking water even."
He says the farmers had worked hard to plant wheat. However, the crops failed because of lack of irrigation. "People just fed the dried stalks of wheat to the animals," he adds.
Rahimullah, another villager, says he has sold a part of his land to a richer neighbour who has a bore well. "The land had belonged to my father," he says. "Without water, we cannot cultivate the land."
According to him, a number of families from his village have moved to Ghazni city. All of them have switched to the clothes business, he says.
Abdul Rahman a resident of Qarabagh district, has also moved from the village to Ghazni city. "The amount of water in most kareezes (water reservoirs) in Qarabagh has dried up." Many families have been forced to shift to the city where they do odd jobs to make ends meet. Rahman has a wheelbarrow, which he uses to transport goods for anybody willing to hire him. "Our kareeze has dried up," he adds.
Nadir Khan, a member of the Provincial Council from Garo district, is sympathetic. He thinks the crisis in farming could have been prevented if officials in the agriculture and livestock department had done their work. "Governmental institutions and charities should find solutions," he says. "If there is a shortage of food stocks in the winter months, it will be very difficult to solve," he warns.
Sultan Husain Abasyar, director of the Agriculture and Livestock department of Ghazni province, confirms a 50 percent shortfall in food production particularly wheat harvests "because of drought".
In his opinion the "problem can be solved in the long term. For the time being there is no remedy!"
What are the long-term plans?
The ministry of agriculture and livestock plans to construct big and small dams. Work will begin after the completion of a survey. "This will decrease the problems of water for farmers," Abasyar asserts.
But Engineer Ghulam Mustafa the former officer in charge of Sardeh agricultural project blames mismanagement of water resources as the root of the water shortage.
There are other water sources, he says, like Sultan Dam, Zana Khan Dam and Sardeh Dam in Ghazni province.
He says: "The government doesn't monitor water distribution and usage. If only the water and land around Sardeh Dam was used properly many people would be benefited."
His advise: "If the related departments can prepare a comprehensive plan, a lot of problems of the farmers would be decreased. Otherwise the farmers of remote areas will abandon agriculture."
May go back to poppy
Meanwhile, in Helmand's Nawa district farmers are threatening to turn to poppy if the authorities cannot irrigate their fields.
There is much less water in the Helmand river than before. Engineer Khan Aqa of the Helmand Agriculture and Development Department says the water in dams and canals is being monopolised by powerful usurpers. They steal water from the canals with pumps or break the locks on dams to irrigate their lands.
Muhibullah, a farmer in the area, is standing morosely by his cotton fields. "This is the third month that I have cultivated the cotton, but I have not been able to irrigate it with canal water," he complains. "This will decrease our production by 100 percent."
"On the one hand there isn't enough water, on the other hand it is being used without controls. This is so damaging for poor people," he adds helplessly.
Muhammad Jan, another farmer who has grown corn on his land, has little hope. "By now the corn should have been harvested. But this year, due to poor irrigation and the coming cold (winter), the yield will be low."
Small farmers have warned that if the government does not provide irrigation for their parched fields, they will go back to poppy. According to authorities in Nawa district, the cultivation of poppy had dropped to zero.
Engineer Khan Aqa confirms the threats are real.
According to his estimates, in the past 50 percent of water was stored in dams. People who live upstream steal water. "They illegally pump out the water at night or break the locks at least twice a week, though we have repaired the gates countless times."
Nawa is an agricultural district located south of Lashkargah which is the centre of Helmand province. Authorities claim they had succeeded in weaning farmers away from poppy. They had switched to cultivating wheat, corn, cotton, water melon and melon. The farmers had earned money from the sale of these agricultural products.