http://www.irinnews.org/report/99973/combating-food-insecurity-and-displacement-in-drought-hit-parts-of-afghanistan

Humanitarian Engineering for Development Workers ERE 496 student Kristine Ellsworth discusses solutions to help reach Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger(1) and to ensure environmental sustainability(7).

The news article “Combating food insecurity and displacement in drought-hit parts of Afghanistan” reported by IRIN news on April 22, 2014 discusses the effects of a recent prolonged drought and its effects on available water resources and food security in the Ghor province of Afghanistan. As mentioned, Ghor province lacks both its own water, energy and at the moment constant supply of food. Ghor province is experiencing extreme food security issues with the issue only looking to intensify if sustainable solutions cannot be developed into the future. With intensified food security issues comes malnutrition and an increased rate of child mortality and a decrease in maternal health. Per 1000 live births, 71 of them will die before they reach the age of one and 460 women of 100,000 live births will die during pregnancy (World Bank, 2012). Afghanistan has a rural population of roughly 23 million people (World Bank, 2012) with potatoes as a main commodity in the Ghor province. Roughly 80% of farming families are dependent upon them for both food and income (IRIN, 2014) . As the drought increases so does there losses in food production, therefore it is imperative to create a way in which to preserve and store food with less incurred losses, in particular, with potatoes. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) traveled to the Ghor province and implemented a two year Disaster Risk Reduction project focusing solely on potatoes. Traditionally, potatoes are grown, harvested and then stored for the winter months in holes that have been dug in the ground, filled with loosely stacked potatoes and recovered with soil (Figure 1). The potato pits are poorly ventilated and incur a loss of roughly 40% of the potatoes per pit. The CRS decided to improve these potato pits by lining the pit with wood and inserting a ventilation pipe (Figure 2). The ventilation pipe allows air to flow more freely, essentially preventing mold and decreasing the rate at which the potatoes spoil. Decreasing the rate at which the food will spoil, allows for a higher consumption rate for the family increasing their health and decreasing mortality rates among all. Celeste Gregory, CRS’s head of office in the Ghor province summed up the project efforts very nicely, “The project has been unique in the way that it combines all of the core elements of successful and sustainable community development, namely that it builds on existing knowledge/practices at the community level, provides technical expertise to address real needs as identified by community members themselves, and can be easily replicated, even by poor farming families.” (IRIN, 2014) Communities were shown a multitude of local materials that they could use to build these improved pits, making the project cost effective ($5-$10 US) and replicable as Gregory suggested.  Excess potatoes were even sold in the market for additional income. Very little additional labor as well as maintenance is required as they are already digging these holes to store their potatoes. Once again as Gregory mentioned, the project is building upon a practice that is already preformed in the communities, making it cultural appropriate. The 13 communities involved have accepted the project as well as designed and implemented further projects triggered by the potato pits.

Traditional Potato Pit (Schweiger, et al., 2013)

Traditional Potato Pit (Schweiger, et al., 2013)

Improved Potato Pits (Schweiger, et al., 2013)

Improved Potato Pits (Schweiger, et al., 2013)

On the broader context, this relates most notable to economics and world hunger. Economics and hunger go hand in hand. If people are not able to support themselves through buying food, they need to be able to grow it, but if they are unable to grow their food or sell excess food to support themselves, then they are in trouble. The potato pit allows these communities to store their potatoes with less incurred potato losses and even allowed for excess potatoes to be sold, creating an income in which they can further support themselves with more potato pits or other necessities. On the broader scale, it is not only Afghanistan affected by these droughts that have been occurring since 2001. Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan have all been affected by these droughts in one way or another. In Afghanistan, “Roughly 12 million Afghans are affected by the ongoing drought, of which an estimated five million lack access to food and water” (Agrawala, Barlow, Cullen, & Mason, 2001). As mentioned earlier, financial resources are depleting and all over Afghanistan homes are having to deal with reduced agricultural activity in different ways. People are having to change their eating habits, eating two meals a day instead of three. During normal times, the nutritional levels are inadequate, so with this further cut in meals and nutrition, the health of men, women and children is rapidly decreasing. This decrease in health is increasing both maternal and infant mortality rates as well as the effects of disease that were not as high of a concern prior to the dourght (Qureshi & Akhtar, 2004).

Another development project addressing food security is in Sudan, Nigeria known as the Zeer pot refrigerator (Figure 3) has been implemented. Sudan, just as Afghanistan can rise to very high temperatures with fruit and vegetables spoiling within days due to lack of keeping them cool. The Zeer pot is a simplified refrigerator made of local materials that is used to prolong the life of the fruit and vegetables. It is composed of one earthenware pot set inside another, with a layer of wet sand in between. As the moisture evaporates, it cools the inner pot, essentially keeping up to 12 kg of fruits and vegetables fresher for longer (Practical Action, 2011). This technology is slightly less appropriate as the potato pits. It costs roughly $20 per pot due to the mold that is needed to create the two pot design. The pots must be fired and left to cool, meaning the process will take a day or so to create. The pots just as the pits require very little additional labor and maintenance because once made, can simply sit there with the food inside. They should be checked though for food that spoils, if it is found, it should be removed. Culturally, pots are used all over the world for different reasons and I don’t believe the zeer pot reaches far from being culturally appropriate. The design is simple and can be made from local clay as well as made by the local people.

Zeer Pot Refrigerator

Zeer Pot Refrigerator

In conclusion, finding ways in which we can create small scale sustainable food security development projects will not solve world hunger, but will bring food one step closer to those mouths in remote areas heavily affected by our changing climate.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Agrawala, S., Barlow, M., Cullen, H., & Mason, S. (2001). The Drought and Humanitarian Crisis in Central and Southwest Asia: A Climate Perspective. The International Research Institute for Climate Prediciton.

IRIN. (2014, 4 22). Retrieved from IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis: http://www.irinnews.org/report/99973/combating-food-insecurity-and-displacement-in-drought-hit-parts-of-afghanistan

Practical Action. (2011). Retrieved from Practical Action: http://practicalaction.org/zeerpots

Qureshi, A. S., & Akhtar, M. (2004). A Survey of Drought Impacts and Coping Measures in Helmand and Kandahar Province of Aghanistan. International Water Management Institute.

Schweiger, J., Potts, M., Keith, D., Santibanez, M.-P., Neukichen, M., Yari, F., et al. (2013). UC Davis International Program CRS. Retrieved from http://afghanag.ucdavis.edu/other-topic/postharvest/potato-cool-storage-manual

World Bank. (2012). The World Bank. Retrieved from http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL

 

 

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