Barren Fields and Empty Stomachs: Afghanistan’s Long, Punishing Drought

They awake in the mornings to find another family has left. Half of one village, the entirety of the next have departed in the years since the water dried up — in search of jobs, of food, of any means of survival. Those who remain pick apart the abandoned homes and burn the bits for firewood.

They speak of the lushness that once blessed this corner of southwestern Afghanistan. Now, it’s parched as far as the eye can see. Boats sit on bone-dry banks of sand. What paltry water dribbles out from deep beneath the arid earth is salt-laced, cracking their hands and leaving streaks in their clothes.

Several years of punishing drought has displaced entire swaths of Afghanistan, one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change, leaving millions of children malnourished and plunging already impoverished families into deeper desperation. And there is no relief in sight.

Reza Karimi, 28, left, and his cousin Khanjar Kuchai, 30, extracting wood and kindling last fall from relatives’ abandoned homes in Nimruz Province, in western Afghanistan.

Boats on dry land where water used to be in a village in Chakhansur district in Nimruz.
Shakiba Sherzayee, 20, preparing to bake bread in the rented home where she and others from her village now live after leaving drought-stricken Chakhansur.

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