Severe drought forces Afghan shepherds to take desperate measures


Afghan sheep farmers and carpet weavers say that their livelihoods are under threat as changing weather patterns wreak havoc. Afghanistan is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, even though it produces just 0.1% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, say climate scientists. [NAJIBA NOORI / AFPTV / AFP]

MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- Nooruddin watched helplessly as his flock of 100 sheep began to die from hunger and thirst on the drought-ravaged hillsides of Balkh Province.

Rather than let more of the prized creatures die a slow death, he made the decision to slaughter most of the rest.

"I cut their heads off," the 65-year-old herder said, adding that their malnourished frames meant their meat was "useless".

"We fed it to the dogs," Nooruddin told AFP.


Shepherds lead a flock of sheep as they graze on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif last November 28. [Farshad Usyan/AFP]


Shepherds bring their sheep to a livestock market in Mazar-e-Sharif last November 28. Many shepherds were forced to to sell off their drought-emaciated animals for a pittance to butchers. [Farshad Usyan/AFP]


Carpet weaver Ghulam Sakhi sits in an internally displaced persons' camp on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif last November 28. The drought and rising cost of wool have prevented him from working in his trade, he said. [Farshad Usyan/AFP]

He is one of many whose traditional livelihoods -- from farmers to carpet weavers -- are under threat as changing weather patterns wreak havoc.

To help Afghan carpet weaving industry, the government exported 540 metric tons of goods, including carpets, to Europe and Asian countries in January through air corridors, according to data provided by Afghanistan’s Minister of Industry & Commerce.

The situation will only get worse, with Afghanistan one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, even though it produces just 0.1% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, warn climate scientists.

Worst drought in memory

For many this latest drought is the worst they can recall.

"I've seen droughts before but never as severe," said 45-year-old livestock trader Mirza.

"A lot of sheep and other animals died on the mountains and in the desert," he said.

Shepherds sold off their emaciated animals for a pittance to butchers, said Mohammed Aref, a 19-year-old shepherd who raises karakul sheep -- famed for their curly-haired lambs' pelts that are turned into traditional hats.

"A lot of us had a big loss," Aref told AFP from the noisy livestock market outside Mazar-e-Sharif, on a crisp, early winter morning.

"Most of us can't afford to get more [livestock], and now our life is ruined."

Aref and other Balkh residents have no notion of climate change as it is understood in places with better access to information and education, but all agreed things were changing.

The last big drought they remembered was about a decade ago. Before that, there hadn't been one for about 50 years, they said.

"We had a drought 12 years ago," recalled 68-year-old Aynoddin, another karakul sheep farmer. "But last year's was the worst."

Higher temperatures, less rain

About 80% of Afghans rely on rain-fed crop and animal farming for their incomes, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Over the next four decades in Afghanistan, scientists predict a decrease in rainfall and a rise in average temperatures of up to 4 degrees Celsius compared to 1999, the UNDP said.

Droughts could soon be considered the norm, unleashing further desertification and loss of arable land, noted the agency.

Problems are only compounded when rains do eventually come. Last spring, flash floods swept entire villages and fields away.

Almost half of all rural residents now face some level of food insecurity in Afghanistan, said the UN in an overview of last year's aid operations.

While light rains in the autumn eased woes for some, the weather has since dried up again.

Asked if they worried for the coming year, several farmers gave a common response.

"If there is a drought, God will decide, so I don't worry," Aynoddin said.

Looming crisis for weavers

The Global Adaptation Initiative, run by the University of Notre Dame in the United States, ranks Afghanistan 173rd out of the 181 countries it scored in terms of a nation's vulnerability to climate change and its ability to adapt.

The human cost is plain to see at a camp for internally displaced persons just outside Mazar-e-Sharif, where rows of white UN tents house hundreds of families and the main source of water is a large communal tank.

Shamayel, a 35-year-old mother from Faryab Province, said her family came to the camp to escape conflict and the drought.

She used to weave colourful traditional kilim rugs, but increasing wool prices made it impossible.

Seven kilogrammes of wool previously cost about $19 (1,480 AFN), she said, but the price rose to $31 (2,410 AFN) in the past year or two.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, rising wool costs have not caused a price jump for Afghan rugs and carpets.

Ongoing uncertainty and anxiety around delayed election results and talks between the Taliban and US negotiators have essentially frozen the market, complained traders in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Another former weaver at the camp, Ghulam Sakhi, 50, said he too had been forced to give up his trade when he arrived.

"I want to weave; I miss it," he said, smiling as he described his craft. "Now I feel useless."

Do you like this article?

3 Comment

Comment Policy * Denotes required field 1500 / 1500

Can anyone tell me what has the government done for removing the drought of Afghanistan? or has made any plans for the future drought?


millions of dollars poured into this country but still the poverty and drought did not finish in afghanistan. afghanistan has a lot of rivers and water; however, there hasnt been a good government and president to remove problems of drought for this country. even ashraf Ghani who considers himself an economist and a good manager could not do anything for removing the poverty and drought of the rural areas. May God have His own Mercy on the poor and innocent people of afghanistan.


The future government should make an organized and fundamental plan for finding solution to the drought. 80% people in Afghanistan ensure their livelihood through agriculture and livestock. Due to the destructive war and drought, people who live in the villages faced with many challenges. The war and drought also created economic difficulties for the people. Afghans' economy is really concerning. If the government does not solve the drought problems and does not assist the livestock herders and farmers, the country will face a crisis in the following years. Youth join the anti-government dissidents’ ranks every day because of the joblessness. This has added to the reinforcement of the enemy ranks as well as the intensification of the war.