Go hungry, or sell my daughter for food?

November 23, 2011
Report— ActionAid
I met Khadicha, a woman with four children and a disabled husband, in the village Khan Arigh of Murdian district, Jawzjan Province, Northern Afghanistan. We sat down together in her modest one-room traditional mud-brick house, joined by the elected chief of the Community Development Council (CDC).

Afghanistan is currently experiencing a severe drought, affecting over 14 provinces and over 2.6 million people. Murdian is one of the most severely affected districts in Jawzjan province. Farmers have been unable to harvest 80% of crops and livestock have died in their thousands.

Khadicha became her family’s sole breadwinner four years ago when her husband suffered paralysis in both legs. She makes a living from weaving carpets – she’s able to complete two per year, which gives her an annual income of around 10,000 Afghani (approximately $200). But her husband’s medical needs mean the money doesn’t stretch far. To make ends meet she also works in other people’s houses and farms her neighbours’ land. But even then, what she earns lasts barely three months at a time.

“I thought 2011 would be a good year for me,” says Khadicha. “I became a member of the women group formed by ActionAid, my husband started walking slowly, though cannot do any hard work. I received a goat and some food grain as a part of ActionAid’s support to the women group. I learned a few things about back-yard farming and also received some vegetable seed. But the drought of this year has taken away all my smiles. I have lost my wheat production, and I could not cultivate the vegetable seed as there has been no water for the last six months. We are surviving with almost no-drinking water though we received supplies from ActionAid which helped us a lot. My husband went to Murdian center to take care of livestock for a big family, even though he can walk only with a stick. The price of my carpets has gone down and the dealer will not give me a similar price to last year.

“I have bought some wheat with the advance from the carpet-dealer and spend most of 1000 Afghani [approximately $20] for my husband’s medicine,” Khadicha continued.

We have food for another 25-30 days. I don’t know how I will survive with all my children and husband after that.

“Due to the drought there is no work on other people’s farms and many people have gone to towns and cities in search of work. In the last four years we have only eaten roti (from wheat), potato and sometimes a little rice. We cannot afford tomatoes or any other vegetables. We can have meat only during Eid e Kurbani [a religious festival] when people share their meat with us.”

Now I am seriously thinking about selling my younger daughter to someone, I don’t know who, to get some money to survive this drought and save my other daughters, my son and my husband.

The CDC chief, one of the most senior people in the village, explained that at least 70 more families out of three hundred in the community are facing a similar situation and planning to migrate to at any time. Other families are surviving by selling their livestock and sending their sons or husbands to other places in search of work.

It’s clear that these people need immediate support to survive this drought. The government of Afghanistan recently declared a drought-assistance package for 10,000 families in Jawzjan province, but many people seem unaware of this. ActionAid is responding to the drought, providing food and water for thousands of families who’ve been pushed to the brink of survival. But as long as media attention and the eyes of governments across the world, continue to focus on the ongoing conflict and war on terror, the suffering of those affected by this disaster will continue.