By Mirwais Harooni
KABUL (Reuters) - More than 80 people have been killed in Afghanistan in avalanches following heavy snow, officials said on Wednesday, with the bad weather set to last for two more days after an unusually dry winter led to fears of drought.
Officials warned of an imminent humanitarian emergency in areas most severely hit by the bad weather, with snow sweeping through villages and blocking off roads.
"We haven't seen this much snow, or this many avalanches, for 30 years," said Abdul Rahman Kabiri, acting governor of the mountainous province of Panjshir, north of Kabul, where more than 30 people were killed in avalanches.
"If the central government doesn't provide humanitarian support, machinery and food soon, this will turn to a disaster," he said, adding that more than 20 people had been injured.
Despite bringing death and misery to so many people, the snow is vital for Afghanistan, where much of the rural population dependent on agriculture relies on snow melting in the mountains to sustain crops in the spring and summer.
"Now we are optimistic about the agriculture situation around the country," said Ministry of Agriculture spokesman Lotfullah Rashid.
"There will be snow and rain for several days, so the country won't face a lack of water during the coming year."
Farming drives the troubled Afghan economy, with about three-quarters of the people living in rural areas, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 2004.
Irrigation is not extensive in Afghanistan, most of which is semi-arid, and aid efforts over the past decade or more have focused on trying to extend it, with mixed results.
"If there hadn't been this much snow and rain, next year could have been a disaster," Rashid said.
(Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)