Pakistan blocking access to grazing land leaves Afghan nomads trapped, hungry

Kinga Komorowska says 200,000 Kuchis were trapped in Afghanistan's eastern province with food for only two weeks

Reuters February 19, 2018
This photograph taken on October 8, 2017 shows Afghan Wakhi nomad family posing for a picture in the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan.. PHOTO:AFP

PHNOM PENH: Donors have refused to support 200,000 nomadic herders in Afghanistan who are running out of food and stranded with their dying animals after Pakistan closed the border, blocking access to
pastureland, an aid group said on Monday.

The Kuchi nomads number about 2.4 million and traditionally migrate in winter from eastern and central Afghanistan to graze
their herds in frontier areas inside Pakistan.

This year, Pakistan has closed its border crossings amid
tensions with its neighbour. Afghanistan accused Pakistan of
failing to move against the Taliban after two attacks in January
that killed hundreds in the Afghan capital Kabul.

A recent assessment by a German aid group found that 200,000 Kuchis were trapped in Afghanistan's eastern province of Khost with enough food for only two weeks, said Kinga Komorowska, country director for French charity Action Against Hunger.

"Now they are pretty close to being without food," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Kabul. She said her charity had approached two major aid donors, which she declined to name, with requests for assistance.

"They rejected it, which was disappointing," she said. One donor said there was not enough data  despite the needs assessment while another said the situation "fell outside its mandate", according to Komorowska.

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She said if the Kuchis were not provided with aid soon, many would join Afghanistan's growing population of uprooted people, who depend on support from the government and aid agencies. Their most pressing concern was a lack of food, Komorowska said.

But the situation could also make it impossible for many of them to continue their traditional way of life, she added.

The needs assessment, which was carried out by the Berlin based aid group Johanniter International Assistance, found that many of the Kuchis' animals had already died and the nomads had been forced to sell some of their healthy stock.

The loss of livestock means they will face difficulties making a living as they depend on their camels for transportation, as well as goats and sheep for dairy, meat and wool products that they consume and sell.

With so many animals being sold, Kuchis earn just $175 per sheep or goat, down from $250 last year, the assessment found. Pakistan has closed its border crossings before, but unlike this year, Kuchis were allowed to follow their traditional grazing routes, said Komorowska.

In recent years Pakistan has deported Afghans who sought shelter there during decades of war, and is currently building a
fence along the border.

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