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Afghanistan's climate woes worsen under the Taliban

July 06, 2022
topic:Climate Change
tags:#Afghanistan, #climate change, #Taliban, #wildfires
by:Shadi Khan Saif
With the Taliban in power, Afghans become increasingly vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. Continued international sanctions make their plight all the more pressing.

Hundreds of local youths rushed late in the night to put off the rather unusual forest fires in Afghanistan’s eastern mountains in early summer this year. Many experts believe these fires will become a recurring phenomenon in a country heavily battered by climate change.

Noor Wali was part of a local youth brigade assembled by elders in Khost Province last week as sudden fires in the region’s precious pine-tree forests began to spread, risking the livelihood of locals and further depleting Afghanistan’s shrinking forest cover.

"With our bare hands and the little resources available at our disposal, we went up to the forests in the mountains and controlled the fires," Wali told FairPlanet over the phone.

Isolated, Afghanistan faces the brunt of the climate crisis

The Taliban, the country’s de facto rulers, confirmed burning down up to 30 hectares of forests in Khost alone just days after identical fires wreaked havoc in another eastern province, Nuristan.

The BBC’s local Pashto service reported burning down an estimated 68 hectares of forests within days.

With no mention of climate change, the Taliban announced it will be appointing a team of forest guards to stop wildfires from spreading.

Officials at the Taliban-controlled Environment Protection Agency could not be reached for comments about the evident link between prolonged droughts and unpredictable weather patterns afflicting the country and phenomena such as forest fires, compromised yield and severe food shortages.

Safi Khurram, an environmentalist at Kabul University, told FairPlanet there is no doubt that Afghanistan is silently facing the grim impacts of climate change. "Lack of rainfall, given the warmer temperatures and droughts, can lead to less forest fires and more widespread fires beyond just the east, and we must raise this issue with the international community."

The country has been subjected to global isolation since August last year when the Taliban seized power on the heels of a US-led withdrawal of NATO forces. No country has since recognised the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate rule over Afghanistan. 

A former senior EPA official now in exile told FairPlanet that even before the Taliban’s takeover the organisation was crippled by corruption and a lack of the capacity and resources needed to tackle climate change and negotiate with global polluters for compensation.

"Now, with the Taliban in power - which is not recognised by any country in the world, the fight for Afghan people’s right to clean air and water has become even tougher," said the source on condition of anonymity.

Temperatures have been increasing across Afghanistan over the past few years. As per a 2016 UNEP report, Afghanistan’s mean annual temperature, which rose by 0.6°C from 1960 to 2008, had further risen by 1.2°C since. In turn, this has led to increased flash floods, river flooding and glacier and snow melt, the Afghanistan Analysis Network reported last month.

International community has a role to play

Commenting on the state of the environment in the Taliban’s Afghanistan, Mohammad Assem Mayar, a researcher at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, stated that ruptured ties with erstwhile donors and the international system in general have torpedoed many activities aimed at mitigating the harm of climate change.

"Funding has been suspended for significant drought prevention and water management projects such as the 222.50 million USD World Bank project to develop early warning and response systems, the Asian Development Bank’s Arghandab Integrated Water Resources Development project and the Afghanistan Drought Early Warning Decision Support Tool, which was in a test phase," Assem Mayar noted in his latest report.

Experts now fear that low soil moisture and above-average temperatures will most likely last through the end of September at the earliest - which would lead to below-average second crop cultivation in the coming months.

Meanwhile, wheat production losses have increased both in terms of severity and extent in 2022 compared to 2021.

Afghanistan is already facing a staggering humanitarian crisis, with over 90 percent of the population requiring some sort of aid.

As the entity in charge of Afghanistan, the Taliban did not fail to celebrate this year’s World Environment Day, which carried the slogan of 'Only One Earth.'

Hafez Aziz-ur-Rehman, director general of the National Environmental Protection Agency, told the audience on the occasion that the Taliban has in place both long and short-term plans and climate change mechanisms to protect the country's environment.

"Afghanistan is now on the path to development and opportunities should not be missed for that," Aziz-ur-Rehman said while calling on the international community, particularly major polluters, to work with them to protect Afghanistan's environment.

Already devastated by the decades of conflicts and the activities of a timber mafia, natural forests in Eastern, Western and Northern Afghanistan are the subject of numerous folklore legends. The country’s hallmark pistachio and pine nut trees are a vital source of income for local communities.

With hardly any knowledge of climate change, the locals in the Musa Khel district of Khost hold the forests as an integral part of their lives and tribal culture. "The jungles are our lives, we earn livelihood from them and the clean air to breathe, we would do all we can to protect them," said Wali.

Image by Rini Sulaiman.

Article written by:
Shadi Khan Saif
Author, Contributing Editor
Embed from Getty Images
Afghans navigate flooded roads after heavy snowfall raises water levels in in Kabul.
© Scott Peterson/Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images
“Afghanistan is now on the path to development and opportunities should not be missed for that.”
© Tuul & Bruno Morandi
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