U.S. Water News Online
MEDFORD, Mass. -- Drought and a lack of adequate food have
led to an economic and social disaster in Afghanistan, where some
girls as young as 7 are sold into marriage so their families can
afford to eat, according to a report by a famine expert.
The study provides the most detailed snapshot to date of
conditions in the war-torn nation. It concluded that the number of
Afghan households with a secure source of food and water has
The report also shows widespread indebtedness, often a source of
shame in Islamic cultures, and it says the practice of selling
daughters into marriage was common in every province surveyed.
``It was very routine, up to the point where we had families who
didn't have a young girl to put into marriage were lamenting it,''
said Tufts University famine expert Sue Lautze, who based the report
on interviews in 1,100 households throughout Afghanistan.
The report was commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International
Development to guide relief efforts. USAID director Andrew Natsios
said in January that food aid had averted widespread famine in the
country of 27 million people, but Lautze's report painted a grim
picture of worsening hardship in villages.
``We went into this thinking maybe this country was going into a
reconstruction phase, when in fact it's still in acute disaster
phase,'' Lautze said in an interview this week.
The report has not yet been released, but a preliminary draft
outlines its conclusions and recommendations.
``This is the most comprehensive look we've had at the village
level food security situation,'' said Joel Charny, vice president for
policy at Refugees International, a Washington group involved in
Afghanistan famine issues. ``I hope it will serve as a wake-up
Letitia Butler, deputy director of USAID's task force for Central
Asia, said the report pointed out the need to focus on injecting cash
into the economy to combat the decline in purchasing power, and on
agricultural assistance that could help during a drought.
Earlier this month, the World Food Program said it needs more than
$585 million to feed 9 million people in Afghanistan. The agency said
it had received less than 60 percent of that.
The United States has spent $230 million on assistance to
Afghanistan, $190 million through USAID, according to the agency's
Lautze's report urges USAID, one of numerous government and
private organizations working in Afghanistan, to prepare for at least
another year of emergency assistance, concentrating on building water
systems, clearing mines and replenishing livestock herds that have
been ``decimated'' by the drought.
``They were coping with the war, they were coping with the
Taliban,'' Lautze said of Afghan villagers. ``But this drought has
really been hard.''
Lautze's teams found that the level of diet security, a measure of
vulnerability to famine, has fallen from 59 percent in 1999-2000 to 9
percent now. Water security fell from 43 percent to 15 percent.
The report does not attempt to calculate how many people have died
of hunger. But it argues that the drought, entering its fourth year,
is wreaking havoc on village economic and social life.
Many of the people surveyed are being forced into heavy debts and
selling precious assets like livestock -- and even their daughters.
Lautze, a former USAID worker, has briefed the State Department,
Defense Department, National Security Council and United Nations on
Despite the grim picture of life in Afghanistan, Lautze said the
World Food Program has delivered 380,000 tons of food there, and
about 60 percent of households reported they had received food
assistance in the last year, more than triple the previous year.
``The fact that they got food aid into 60 percent of the
households in the middle of a war -- these are not small
accomplishments,'' Lautze said.
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