Water scarcity can have drastic impacts on the health and wellbeing of families across Afghanistan. It can also hugely affect households’ ability to earn an income and build secure livelihoods, particularly in remote regions, where communities rely almost solely on farms to make ends meet.

In a country where agricultural production is the primary source of income for families, the availability of and ability to access water directly impacts the success of rural livelihoods, and has subsequent ramifications on food security and economic stability across the whole of the country. 

Due to years of conflict and instability, there has been little investment in building or repairing water pumping and storage infrastructure in Afghanistan. Climate change is heightening these water access challenges for rural Afghan households, with erratic rainfall patterns and reduced snowmelt reducing the availability of surface water. This water scarcity is leaving farmers unable to water crops, irrigate their land, or keep their livestock healthy, reducing agricultural productivity, and leading to smaller crop yields and loss of livestock.

It is Afghanistan’s rural women that are most vulnerable to the economic impacts of water scarcity. Women play a vital role in agricultural activities in Afghanistan, contributing to planting, harvesting, and livestock management, despite limitations on their access to resources and low levels of female land ownership.

With water sources drying up, and a lack of proper storage infrastructure, women become more likely to face poverty: with few ways to earn an income, and limited access to education, women lack the opportunities to retrain in off-farm skills, find alternative employment or access economic support, often meaning that women’s wellbeing is entirely dependent on the productivity of their land and animals. 

Additionally, water stress leads to women becoming burdened with additional responsibilities such as travelling long distances to fetch water. This not can take a long time, reducing the hours they can spend participating in income-generating activities. Also responsible for caring for their families, without this much needed income rural women find it harder to feed their children, and look after elderly or disabled family members. 

Strength in the face of drought

Afghanaid plays a crucial role in supporting rural communities in Afghanistan to improve access and storage of ground and surface water, a crucial first step in building resilience against climate change. 

Working closely with local communities to implement sustainable water management projects - such as constructing and rehabilitating wells, water reservoirs and irrigation canals - we reached 498 communities to adapt to the changing climate last year, as well as supporting over 63,289 people to strengthen their livelihoods and improve food security. Afghan women are key participants in this work, informing climate adaptation strategies and ensuring all projects address the gender-specific challenges they face.

In Daykundi, farming communities know all too well the devastating impacts of drought on their income sources

The people of my village are mostly engaged in agriculture and livestock…what we grow is wheat, corn and potatoes.

Daykundi resident and mother of seven Zahra explained, “In previous years we used to grow a lot, but in these two years, due to the drought, our yield has become very low. Wheat dried up at the time of grain and was destroyed.”

To support Zahra to strengthen and diversify her income sources, whilst also grow her confidence, she engaged in a variety of training courses: “We received various types of training including disaster risk reduction, leadership, dairy processing, bookkeeping and conflict management.”

By providing Zahra and other women in her community to better care for their livestock in times of drought and to become small business owners, whilst simultaneously implementing sustainable land management programming to reverse soil degradation in her region, we were able to improve community resilience to water stress, and safeguard routes through which to earn an income in times of water scarcity. 

In addition, Afghanaid supported the creation of a community-based drought early warning system in Zahra’s area. Critical tools through which to monitor, predict, and mitigate the impacts of drought events before they escalate into humanitarian crises, drought early warning systems combine forecasting methods and local expertise with disaster preparedness activities, ensuring communities are able to proactively respond to potential droughts. Through supporting local communities in this manner, we can ensure agricultural households can plan and protect their fields, crops and livestock when necessary, securing their livelihoods and ensuring they can afford basic necessities.

Reinforcing this preparedness, we support communities to better manage their water resources and adapt to changing climatic conditions. After building reservoirs and water systems in underserved rural communities, we assist in the creation of locally-led resource management committees. With equal gender participation rates in each committee, stewardship over shared resources can foster equality throughout the community, and ensure the needs of all are met whilst bolstering local access to water.

Through her role as President of her local rangeland management committee, mother of three Roya has been able to proactively protect her local area from drought-induced flash floods, as well as raise her status in the home - and she is rightly very proud.

As a woman I am really proud of myself because before my husband didn’t let me go out - but now he believes in my abilities. Before, I didn’t have enough information regarding rangeland management and leadership, but thanks to the training my knowledge has increased dramatically. We will be able to prevent flash floods and soil erosion, meaning our rangelands will be green and maintained which will be beneficial for us and the next generations.

How can you help?

When you stand beside women like Roya and Zahra, you can enable them to protect their communities from climate change-induced water scarcity, and enable them to once again rely on agriculture to earn a living and feed their families. By safeguarding this precious resource for Afghanistan's farming communities, your support will catalyse ripples of change across the country, spearheaded by the rural Afghan women striving to create a brighter future for themselves and their families. 

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