The Kuchis (The Afghan Nomads)

The nomadic Kuchis are potentially the largest vulnerable population in Afghanistan. For centuries their semi-annual migrations with their herds of sheep, goats, donkeys, and camels led to important contributions in terms of skins, meat, and wool to local communities. More than 80% of Afghanistan's land is suitable only for sparse grazing making this sort of seasonal migration ideal. After the war against the Soviet Union, the subsequent years of foreign-imposed war, drought, and ethnic tensions, however, the number of Kuchis, as well as the size of their herds, has dropped dramatically.

The Kuchis were once celebrated in the west as handsome, romantic nomads adorned with silver and lapis jewelry. Traditionally, they have lived by selling or bartering animals, wool, meat, and dairy products for foodstuffs and other items with villagers. As they move from pasture to pasture, the Kuchis are able to escape the limits on the size of local herds, a restriction villagers are subjected to.

Since the fall of the Taliban, life for most Afghans has improved. However, this has not proved true for the Kuchis. Since the 1960's, 70's, and early 80's, the Kuchi population has shrunk by 40% and many of them reside in refugee or displacement camps. The reasons are numerous. The demise of the Kuchi tradition is the result of continued war, destruction of roads, drought, air raids, Soviet bombing and other war-related causes. These problems were further compounded by the fact that the drought from 1998 to 2002 caused the loss off 75% of the Kuchi herds. Pastures have still not recovered sufficiently. In addition, landmines and other unexploded ordinances have restricted the areas available for grazing. War also forced many Kuchis to flee their summer grazing lands in parts of central Afghanistan. When they returned, they found that locals in the areas had converted much of their pastures to farming lands.

Consequently, some Kuchis have given up their nomadic lifestyle and have taken up residence on the outskirts of cities, working as laborers. Many express a desire to return to their traditional role, but many aid agencies, however, concentrate on short-term economic and humanitarian aid, rather than the sort of long-term aid the Kuchis would need to rebuild their herds.