As the Taliban form their new government in Afghanistan, one of their challenges will be to tackle an ongoing drought and food shortages. Nearly a third of the population doesn't know if they will have a meal each day, according to Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nation's humanitarian chief in Afghanistan.
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The United Nations' World Food Program has distributed food to tens of thousands of people in recent weeks, but with winter approaching, he said there is an urgent need for at least $200 million to continue feeding people.
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Kaustubh Devale, the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's emergency and resilience program in Afghanistan, joined The World's host Marco Werman to discuss the situation from Kabul.
Marco Werman: Kaustubh, you travel all around Afghanistan for your work, how bad are the recent droughts? What have you seen?
Kaustubh Devale: Yes, as part of my work, I frequently travel around the country in the rural areas. I was in the western provinces of Herat and Badghis as early as March, and we could see the signs of drought even then. For example, in the Injil livestock market, which is one of the big livestock markets, prices of livestock had already started going down and the prices of fodder and feed were almost doubled even in March, when the pasture availability should be high. And just to put things in perspective, you know that 70% of Afghans live in rural areas. Almost 80% of the population is directly, indirectly dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.
So, take us to that micro-level. How are those farmers that you've been meeting? How are they experiencing the connection between drought and their livelihoods? How is it hitting them?
I was talking with a few livestock keepers as well, like Ms. Farzana in Herat province, and she was saying that with the small livestock herd that she owned of around 18 or 19 animals, goats and sheep, she was not able to even access pastures or didn't have the cash income to purchase feed from the market for her livestock and was on the verge of selling four or five of her animals in the market just to raise money to feed the rest of her livestock. And there are several examples of this. In the month of June in Herat city, we could already see the livestock herders who had sold off a big chunk of their livestock holdings and had migrated, or got displaced, to the city and were using the small grass around the pavements, etc. as the pasture for these animals.
Surely the Taliban must understand that if their citizens are hungry and could potentially face starvation, that is a fundamental dilemma that will put their authority in check. Do you have any sense of how seriously the Taliban is seeing this problem?
I guess this is a question best asked to them, because I cannot really comment on this, how they are thinking about this. But as I understand, the feedback from the local areas where we are working, the recognition that drought has impacted farmers, drought has severely impacted livestock keepers, is there and there is an urgency to have the support for the farmers and herders and landless people, as well.
Is there a sense as you go through the countryside, Kaustubh, that Afghans are concerned that this problem could get worse, that there will be further food shortages that they're going to have to contend with?
People are surely apprehensive of how and where these developments are going. The impacts of drought, they continue, unless there are policies and programs by whichever government is in place for the development and humanitarian community to address the drivers of drought. And in Afghanistan, the cycle of severe droughts is increasing its frequency. And so, unless there are programs and investments to address these causal factors of drought, it is not going to help cyclical adverse effects of drought and conflict.
What are the greatest needs Afghans have right now?
Of course, the needs are diverse, but if we look at it from immediate to a bit in the medium-term, safeguarding the food security of the rural communities is one of the key needs. And then in a broader sense, address the climate change and other disaster risks. Focusing on supporting the agricultural livelihoods would be quite the key going forward.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.