"Our Daughters Are Our Only Economic Asset"

| Mon Jan. 8, 2007 1:26 PM EST

In the past, Afganistan exerienced a serious drought every couple of decades, but now there have two in a row, and 25 million villagers have been affected. Arranged marriages are against both civil and Islamic law in Afghanistan, but that has not stopped a number of families from selling their daughters in marriage in order to survive. The girls range in age from 8 to about 15, and some of the husbands are also very young.

The last drought caused losses of between 80% and 100% of crops, and now the cycle has begun again. Children are suffering from malnutrition, and are often going on long treks to gather water and firewood. They are eating potatoes, and boiled water with sugar, and they are dying. There have been attempts to get food to the villagers, but the heavy snows have prevented delivery. Also, members of the Taliban have attacked food convoys coming in from Pakistan. The only way for many of the Afghan people to survive is to sell their daughers.

The Afghan Minister of Agriculture recently declared that the drought was the cause of the sharp drop in production wheat, Afghanistan's main crop. That sounds like a reasonable explanation, but there are also those who say the drought is only partially to blame. These people say that wheat shortages have also come about because farmers would rather grow poppies. Afghan farmers also say that they do not have access to improved seeds, fertilizers, equipment, and technology, and therefore cannot compete with neighboring countries.

With thirteen provinces in crisis, the food shortage in Afganistan is a dramatic example of the effects of climate change, political instability, and a growing drug market. All of the affected villagers suffer, and the fate of female children does not look good.