Drought, poverty lead children to abandon school
CHEMTAL, 2 December 2008 (IRIN) - Eight-year-old
Ahmad Shafi and his younger brother spend many hours a
day fetching drinking water for their family in the
drought-stricken Chemtal District of Balkh Province,
northern Afghanistan. They have been unable to attend
school as a result.
"We start around eight in the morning and finish by
midday," Ahmad told IRIN, adding that their job was
"difficult" and "long".
Ahmad's uncle, Abdul Samad - with whom his family
has been living since his father died two years ago -
sells vegetables at a local bazaar, and sometimes
helps Ahmad and his brother when more than the usual
volume of water is needed.
"I have to work and provide food or collect water…
women cannot go far to collect water, so the boys have
to do this job," he said
Drought, poverty and lack of food have adversely
affected the life of many children in Chemtal and
elsewhere, forcing some to work instead of going to
It is hard to estimate the number of children who
have abandoned school to collect water and/or help
feed their families, but local officials have reported
a considerable drop in school attendance.
"The number of students has gradually
declined…10-20 percent of the several hundred students
have abandoned school because of drought," said
Enayatullah Sharaaf, head of Chemtal's education
"The quality of attendance has also been affected
because students do not have enough time and energy to
do homework," he said.
Mohammad Zahir Penhan, director of Balkh's
education department, said most schools could be
closed down in 2009 if the situation does not improve.
"Our children often go hungry"
Life in Chemtal is hard. Both agriculture and
animal husbandry - prime sources of income - have been
badly affected by drought.
"We hardly find any food to eat. Our children often
go hungry," said a resident of Chemtal District,
explaining that all his four children had lost weight
and regularly fell ill.
"Their faces have become pale and they always
complain about pain," he said.
Across the country thousands of livestock have
perished over the past two years, and over 80 percent
of rain-fed agricultural output had been lost this
year owing to drought, the Ministry of Agriculture has
In June hundreds of drought-affected households
from Alburz and Chemtal districts abandoned their
homes and camped near Mazar-i-Sharif, the provincial
capital of Balkh Province.
The government encouraged the displaced families to
return to their original areas where they were
promised that drinking water and food aid would be
Months later, people said the government had yet to
fulfil its promises. "We have received no aid," said
Abdul Naeem, a resident of Alburz District.
"If the government had trucked in water to us, we
would not have had to trek for hours to collect a few
buckets of water," said an elderly man, Mohammad Rasol.
Government officials in Mazar-i-Sharif said
drinking water had been trucked in to people in
Chemtal and Alburz districts for a while, but the
process had stopped temporarily due to technical and
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