Afghanistan: Summer heat threatens people uprooted by drought and war

Displaced families in Herat

Afghanistan 2019 © Noor Ahmad Saleem/MSF

Spiking summer temperatures in Afghanistan are threatening some 100,000 displaced people sheltering on the outskirts of the city of Herat. At the same time, humanitarian assistance is being reduced and stores of water are running out. 

People fled their villages in the provinces of Herat, Faryab, Badghis, and Ghor in northwestern Afghanistan last year during a severe drought and increased fighting between armed opposition groups and Afghan security forces. One year on, the drought is over but continuing insecurity makes it impossible to return to their homes. 

“In summer, the displaced people have no protection from the sun other than their tents, set up on the bare land of the Herat settlements,” says Raphaël Torlach, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) project coordinator in Herat. “Their water supply is inadequate, and their access to health care and basic services is very limited. We are very concerned that humanitarian assistance is being reduced and that it may not be sustained.”

MSF is increasing its medical services at a clinic in Kahdistan, a camp near Herat city, and is calling for assistance from other humanitarian actors.

Dwindling supplies

The displaced people have had insufficient food, water, sanitation, and health care since they first sought shelter outside Herat city, but a reduction in the water supply in recent weeks has seen people begging for water in the neighborhood in order to drink and wash. 

“We are struggling to survive amid all these hardships,” says Mohammad, who fled his village in Faryab province one year ago because of constant fighting on his land. “I’ve never ever had such a bad time in my whole life. We have no income, no shelter, everyone is sick, the weather is hot, and we don't have drinking water.” 

After Mohammad’s two-year-old son developed a fever, stomach pains, and a rash on his tongue, he brought the child to MSF’s clinic in Kahdistan. MSF has been running the clinic since last December to provide basic health care, including vaccinations and screening and treatment for malnutrition. MSF also has an ambulance to transport people to hospitals for specialized care. 

“During the winter, most of our patients came to the clinic for respiratory diseases,” says MSF doctor Hazada Barez. “But now that the weather is getting hot, people are suffering from digestive system disorders, like diarrhea and vomiting. Our patients’ medical conditions are related to poor sanitation, a lack of clean drinking water, and having no protection against insect bites.”

Displaced families in Herat
Afghanistan 2019 © Noor Ahmad Saleem/MSF

Stranded in desperate conditions

Despite the increasingly desperate conditions in the settlements, the displaced people are unable to return home because of the ongoing conflict. “The road in our area is blocked,” says Delaram, a 40-year-old woman who fled Badghis province with her family 11 months ago. “Once it is reopened, we will return. But for now, this is impossible.”

MSF runs six projects in Afghanistan’s Kabul, Helmand, Kandahar, Herat, Khost, and Kunduz provinces. In addition to its mobile clinic for displaced people in Kahdistan, Herat province, MSF also supports the Ministry of Public Health staff in the Emergency Department in Herat Regional Hospital, especially with triage and management of critical cases. 

In 2018, MSF teams provided nearly 140,000 outpatient consultations, assisted 74,600 deliveries, and performed more than 11,400 surgical interventions in Afghanistan. We do not accept funding from any government and instead rely solely on donations from private individuals and foundations for our operations in Afghanistan.