nat 65

Thursday April 27 3:19 PM ET

Drought Ravages Southern Afghanistan

AP Photo
AP Photo

By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press Writer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Water wells were bone dry, camel carcasses rotted in the blistering sun and entire villages in southern Afghanistan talked of leaving the drought-ravaged area for neighboring Pakistan, a World Food Program official said Thursday.

After four days of traveling from village to village in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar and Zabul provinces, Khalid Mansour, an information officer for the organization in neighboring Pakistan, said the situation was desperate.

Afghanistan's nomads, called Koochis, have lost up to 80 percent of their cattle because of a severe water shortage, he said. Irrigation systems built to collect rainwater have dried up.

Apricot and almond trees that provide the livelihood of villages have withered and are without fruit. In some villages people had been reduced to digging up alfalfa, which is used as animal fodder, and boiling the roots for food.

``We saw a huge number of animal carcasses. Camels were dying,'' Mansour said. ``When a camel dies from lack of water, it is a drought.''

The World Food Program has been feeding 30,000 families in the region since February, or about 300,000 people. Next month the WFP plans to add 10,000 more families to its program, giving each family 220 pounds of wheat.

Many in Afghanistan spoke of moving away from the parched land, Mansour said. But with much of the southern Asian continent withering under the heat of this extreme summer, the WFP wants to avoid a mass exodus.

It would work against the Afghanis to travel south and become refugees in Pakistan, which has also been hit with severe water shortages in Baluchistan and Sindh provinces.

Further south in India, 50 million villagers are suffering a searing drought in two western states, while 30 million others are dealing with severe water shortages in nine northern states, a government report said Thursday. Villagers desperate for a drink have begun digging small wells with their bare hands, some reaching at least six feet before finding dirty, saline water.

``We think it is better to tell (Afghani) villagers to stay in their homes, dig deeper wells and clean up the irrigation canals,'' Mansour said. ``If they leave it could destroy the whole village structure.''

The WFP is offering Afghans additional flour as an incentive if they remain in their villages.

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