Can pastoral nomads return to their traditional livelihood of raising livestock in the Registan Desert of Southern Afghanistan? Academic Article uri icon


  • Goal Of This Report In Afghanistan, (1) there are several million nomadic people known as kuchis, a generic term used there mainly by non-nomads to describe pastoral nomads. A severe drought in 1998 caused the displacement of approximately 100,000 kuchis from the Registan desert (2) in southern Afghanistan. Most of these people are now living in temporary settlements between the Arghandab and Helmand Rivers and Registan. Approximately 57,000 are being supported by the UN in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maywand and Panjwayi districts of Kandahar Province; the rest are living in nonsupported settlements. The UN is currently seeking strategies to return the kuchis to their traditional livelihood of raising livestock in Registan and end UN support of the IDP camps. This also appears to be the desire of most kuchis, at least the elders whom we interviewed, although some kuchis believe that the nomadic lifestyle is coming to an end (Amani 2003). How can this be achieved and sustained? We start with the premise that the return of kuchis to their traditional nomadic lifestyle is possible if carefully planned, seeing that it was done successfully by kuchis themselves for many centuries. Our goal was to examine possibilities for the return of kuchis to Registan. We reviewed reports published to date, visited several well clusters in Registan, interviewed kuchis from the IDP camps and non-IDP settlements and had discussions with personnel from a number of organisations working with kuchis, including the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Voluntary Association for Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA) and Central Asian Development Group (CADG). Reports included recent independent studies that described the past and present situation of kuchis, the state of vegetation, soils and well clusters and water catchments (nawars) in Registan. We were dealing with the post-1998 period; however, there exists a large body of research on pastoral nomads in Afghanistan prior to that date. We did not intend to report on the impact of earlier droughts nor make comparisons with earlier situations. We visited Afghanistan from 21 May to 28 May 20043. Background Registan is situated in southern Afghanistan, bordered by the sand dunes south of the Arghandab River in the north and by the Pakistan border in the south. It is part of the African-Indian Desert region with a total area of about 24,000 [km.sup.2] that includes part of the Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz districts. It has a Mediterranean arid climate characterised by low winter rainfall from November to May, high summer air temperatures (above 40[degrees]C in August) and a high rate of potential evaporation (about 3000 mm annually). This region is used by nomads and semi-nomads who, until recently, depended solely on the raising of livestock for their livelihood. Approximately 10 percent (2-2.5 million people) of the population of Afghanistan consists of kuchis. They comprise a number of ethnic communities, the Pashtuns being the majority group (UNCHA 2004). In Registan there are only two main ethnic groups: Baluch, comprising about 80 percent, and Pashtuns about 20 percent of the nomadic population. They raise mainly Baluchi sheep for meat, milk and wool. In addition, camels are raised for transport, milk and drawing water, goats for milk, hair and meat and donkeys for transport. Wells and nawars are the sources of water for kuchis and their animals in Registan. Nawars are dug-out depressions that act as collecting reservoirs for run-off water. Only Baluch kuchis have wells; Pashtun kuchis are dependent on nawars. Some Baluch kuchis having no access to wells are dependent on nawars as well. Livestock in Registan grazes only natural vegetation; apparently, no supplementary feed is offered. According to the kuchis whom we interviewed, two methods of livestock raising is practised: (1) Grazing animals in Registan during winter/spring months of the year and then migrating to near the Arghandab River or Helmand River areas for the rest of the year. …

publication date

  • January 1, 2004