By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, May 18 (Reuters) - The United Nations and relief agenices have drawn up a plan to dig hand pump wells in drought-stricken southern Afghanistan, a U.N. report said on Thursday.
It said UNICEF was leading a technical team trying to put together an action plan for safe drinking water for the worst affected districts in Kandahar and Zabul provinces.
Some 250 wells were to be drilled in Zabul, and U.N. agencies were installing hand pumps in Kandahar, the report said. The drought, described as the worst in over 30 years in Afghanistan, is threatening the lives of several hundred thousand people and livestock. It has forced thousands of nomads to flee southern areas in search of pasture for cattles, countless of which have already perished, it said.
The drought is a major ordeal because it has hit agriculture, the last remaining major source of income and subsistence for the poor in Afghanistan, where the economy is in a shambles and the infrastructure has been almost destroyed by 20 years of war. "In southern Afghanistan, an average of 10 percent of dug or bore wells are dry. In the west over 60 percent of the wells in Khashrod district of Nimroz province have run dry, as have almost half the wells in Maiwand district of Kandahar,'' the report said.
Fruit orchards and fields have mostly turned yellow, and the situation could worsen since more rains are unlikely before November while the next harvest is expected in the summer 2001.
The U.N has appealed for $1.8 million for initial short-term assistance for drought victims. The report said only the Swiss government, with a pledge of $100,000, has come forward so far.
Donor countries on Wednesday said that they were willing to help the drought-affected people, but that any resumption of fighting between the ruling Taleban and its opponents would affect the flow of humanitarian aid and future development assistance. The warning coincided with reports that the ruling Taleban, which controls more than 90 percent of the country, and the northern opposition alliance were preparing for another round of fighting.