Zara lives in one of the villages of Bamyan affected by drought. Last winter saw really low snow and rainfall in many parts of Afghanistan, and the effects are felt now. Copyright WFP/Silke Buhr
With her jeep sliding around in mud, Silke enters the Yakawlang district of Bamyan, where she finds out how a village can be rain-soaked and severely drought-affected at the same time. Talking to the men of the village she also finds out how they are planning to deal with the coming food shortages and what long-term effects that could have on the community.
Today we went into the Yakawlang district of Bamyan, to visit a village affected by drought. This might sound strange – Bamyan is a relatively green province (though not in early winter, as you can see from the photos). And it was actually raining today. So how can you have a drought while you’re getting soaked to the skin and your jeep is sliding around in the mud? Basically, it’s a time-delay thing. Last winter (2010/2011) saw really low snow and rainfall in many parts of Afghanistan, and we’re starting to see the effects now. The poorest farmers (and most Afghans make their living from farming) don’t have irrigation systems to water their fields, so they rely entirely on rain and snow to make their crops grow. So the fact that it didn’t rain last winter means that the crops that were planted in the spring didn’t get enough water. The effects are felt now.
There is one water pipe in the village of Kanak, and it yields only a tired trickle. “The water level is so very low now,” Zara sighs. “The young men tried to dig deeper, but it didn’t bring more water.” It takes 30 minutes to fill a 20-litre jerry can, she tells me. The villagers have organised a strict system to ensure fair access to water. Containers are being filled throughout the night – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for everyone to get the water they need.
We are taken to the mosque to sit with the village men to discuss their situation. Everyone turns up. The people are not happy – they are deeply concerned about the water situation. And about the fact that they have no road leading to their village. And that there is no school. And, despite the fact that they are now facing drought conditions, their valley may well be flooded in the springtime when the snowmelt rushes down the over-grazed and eroded mountainside.
“We won’t starve to death,” says Mohammed Fazil, an outspoken member of the group. “That’s because we’ve been able to sell our animals to get some food. But now that we’ve sold them, the only option left is to leave the village to look for work and food elsewhere. Many people have already gone.” He doesn’t say what will happen if they don’t find work.
Sometimes, it’s very frustrating being a PI Officer. You show up in some terribly poor, remote village with a notebook and a camera, and people get cross with you. They don’t want their photos taken or their words written down, their privacy invaded at a time when they’re feeling weak and vulnerable. They need help – food, water, roads, schools… And you – the person with the notebook – are not in a position to be able to give them any of those things.
We explain that WFP can only help with food – and that their village is on the distribution list to get food in response to the drought; that the local government is also there to help them. That they have not been forgotten, that we are aware of their needs. Mohammed Fazil looks at me, points to the camera and quotes a proverb that says ’What you can hear is not comparable to what you see.’ “You have seen our situation here,” he says. “Now you must tell the world about what you have seen.”
Silke’s Diary from Afghanistan
WFP’s Silke Buhr is writing a daily diary about her 6-day journey through the mountains of Central Afghanistan. As she travels, she is seeing how food aid is helping to transform the lives of the people who live in the Bamyan region. Her diary paints a fascinating picture of one of the least visited places on Earth. Read other diary entries