Unlike many Afghans whose living conditions have improved over the past nine years, many Kuchis, a minority nomad community - predominately Pashtuns - say theirs have deteriorated.
Months after their mud-huts on the southwestern outskirts of Kabul were allegedly burned down in skirmishes over property and grazing land in August with Hazaras (a minority group mostly living in central Afghanistan), the number of Kuchi households seeking refuge in slums across Kabul has increased.
Many of the estimated 14,000 people living in 16 slums in different parts of Kabul are Kuchis, according to government officials.
Dozens of Kuchi families have, meanwhile, sought refuge in and around a ruined palace in the south of Kabul. As the harsh winter sets in, many of these families, particularly their children, face increased problems.
The Central Statistics Office estimates the Kuchi population at three million (more than 10 percent of the total).
And while more than 30 percent of the Afghan population (nine million people) live in absolute poverty and five million “non-poor” live on 2,100 Afghanis (US$43) a month, the majority of Kuchis (over 54 percent) live in absolute poverty, according to a 2008 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA).
“The Kuchi are one of the poorest and most marginalized communities in Afghanistan,” states a 2009 report by the Center for Natural Resource Information Technology at the Texas A&M University, describing 55-78 percent of Kuchi households as poor.
Officials in the Health Ministry said they did not have information about Kuchis’ access to healthcare services but the Education Ministry said Kuchis’ illiteracy rate was the highest in the country.
“No one even counts how many Kuchi women and children die from preventable and curable diseases,” Ezatullah Ahmadzai, director of Independent Directorate of Kuchi Affairs (IDKA), told IRIN.
Loss of pastureland
Most Kuchis rely on animal husbandry for their livelihoods but their access to pasture has diminished due to conflict, environmental, demographic, economic and social and political factors over the past three decades.
This has resulted in regular violence between Kuchi herders and mostly Hazaras over the past few years except in 2009.
Hazara residents of Wardak and Bamyan provinces accuse Kuchi herders of invading their villages, damaging farmlands and property.
“A lot has changed in Afghanistan over the past decades and there are no grazing lands left in Hazarajat [central Afghanistan] for Kuchis,” said Gholam Sakhi, a Hazara elder in Kabul.
Kuchis accuse Hazaras of denying their centuries-long right to pasture land for ethnic reasons.
“The government has formed a commission to solve the pasture land issue but this will take time,” said Ahmadzai of the IDKA.
However, both Kuchi and Hazara elders accused the government of being unwilling to end their disputes.
In 2009, however, no Kuchi-Hazara conflict was reported in the central highlands where the Hazara are the majority.
Fabrizio Foschini, a political researcher with the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), a Kabul-based think-tank, said the government secretly paid US$2-3 million to an influential Kuchi militia commander to ensure Kuchis did not enter Hazara areas.
The reason, he said, was the September 2009 presidential election when President Hamid Karzai had secured the support of a Hazara leader, Haji Mohammad Muhaqiq.
This was confirmed by Ahmadzai: “The government paid money to some Kuchis to procure fodder so another conflict over pasturelands could be prevented.”
US military forces also stepped in to ease Hazara-Kuchi tensions in 2009 with humanitarian assistance.
Kuchis have 10 seats in the lower house of the parliament and a general directorate to represent their interests. However, some experts say they are marginalized from decision-making.
“Kuchi is now a derogatory term,” said Foschini, adding that MPs and other politicians representing the community were not really Kuchi as most had settled in Kabul and other major cities.
The government, in line with the constitution, seeks to distribute land and help Kuchis end their nomadic lifestyle.
But solving Kuchis’ problems or changing their lifestyle requires more than a piece of land and a stronger resolve by the government, experts say.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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