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Afghanistan’s climate change exacerbating poverty as humanitarian crisis looms – National
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Afghanistan’s climate change exacerbating poverty as humanitarian crisis looms – National

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This valley is fed by snowmelt and rain from the mountains. It’s nestled among the northwesterners Afghanistan’s jagged peaks was once fertile. But the Climate has changedLocals claim that the earth has become barren over the past few decades, making it difficult for people to survive.

Many have fled to Iran, or to live in poverty in camps for the displaced in Afghanistan.

“I remember from my childhood … there was a lot of snow in the winters, in spring we had a lot of rain,” said 53-year-old Abdul Ghani, a local community leader in the village of Sang-e-Atash, in the hard-struck province of Badghis.

“But since a few years ago there has been drought, there is no snow, there is much less rain. It is not even possible to get one bowl of water from drainpipes to use,” he said, as he observed the Red Crescent Society handing out emergency winter food supplies to farmers whose crops have completely failed.

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The already difficult situation in Afghanistan has been made even worse by the severe drought that is now in its second-year. Afghans, who have been ravaged by war for four decades, now face the coronavirus pandemic as well as an economy in freefall due to the freezing of international funds after the Taliban took power in mid-August. This was in the wake of a chaotic withdrawal from NATO and U.S. troops. Millions can’t feed themselves, and aid groups warn of rising malnutrition and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Red Crescent aid is the only hope for many families in the Sang-e-Atash community during the winter. The organization’s regional head for western Afghanistan, Mustafa Nabikhil, said 558 families had received the food over three days: flour, rice, beans, cooking oil, sugar, salt, tea and high-calorie, vitamin-fortified biscuits.

Badghis’s farmers are particularly vulnerable as the region lacks an irrigation system, leaving them dependent on the weather, Nabikhil said.

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They will eat if it rains. If it doesn’t, they won’t. Their desperation can be felt.

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“There is no solution, we are just destroyed,” said Ghani. “We can’t go anywhere, to a foreign country, we have no money, we have nothing. In the end we must dig our graves and die.”

Necephor Mghendi, head of Afghanistan Delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said drought is leading to “worrying food shortages, with around 22.8 million people — more than 55 per cent of Afghanistan’s population — experiencing high levels of acute food shortages.”

Severe drought has affected more than 60 per cent of the country’s provinces, he said, “but there is no single province not affected since some are facing serious or moderate drought.”

“If urgent measures are not taken, there will be a catastrophic humanitarian situation,” he said. “It is arguably the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment, and the saddest part is that early action and prompt action could have prevented it from escalating.”

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Many people find that the current conditions are already dangerous.

“We have nothing,” said 45-year-old Juma Gul, one of the many people displaced by drought sitting in a Red Crescent mobile health clinic just outside the Badghis provincial capital of Qala-e-Now. Her family survived on loans from shopkeepers and nine children. Her husband was unable to find work. She said that even those loans have dried up.

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“Sometimes we find food and sometimes not. We only eat dry bread and green tea. We can’t buy flour or rice, it’s too expensive.”

Abdul Haqim, a farmer from Hachka, was looking out over his barren fields, the icy wind blowing across cracks and the fissures of cracked soil. It used to produce wheat and support his family of 18. It is now empty.

“There is no rain, there is drought,” he said. Many people in his village, including three of his adult sons, have left for Iran and he’s considering sending a fourth, although the boy is only 12. It’s the only way his family can survive.

“My friend, people are leaving this region. Some people even leave their children (behind) and go,” he said.

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Experts predict that climate change could make droughts more severe and frequent. They have been ringing alarm bells over Afghanistan for years.

“Climate change in Afghanistan is not an uncertain, ‘potential’ future risk but a very real, present threat – whose impacts have already been felt by millions of farmers and pastoralists across the country,” said a 2016 report by the World Food Program, United Nations Environment Program and Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency. The current drought is the most severe in decades.

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“The effect of climate change and global warming in Afghanistan is very clear in multiple ways,” said Assem Mayar, a water resource management expert and PhD candidate at the University of Stuttgart. Over the last two decades, 14 per cent of the country’s glaciers have melted, he said, while the frequency of drought has doubled compared to the last decades of the 20th century.

Flood severity and frequency have also increased. There has been a shift in snow from the early winter to the spring, as well as an increase in flood frequency. Mayar explained that snow, by its nature, lasts longer than rainwater, and the country’s water balance is affected. Rainwater runs out in about two-to-14 days. Afghanistan also has smaller water reservoirs than neighboring nations, which are 10x smaller.

Mayar stated that the previous government had created a drought risk management strategy. However, with the August change of government, everything has stopped.

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Deputy Minister for Water Mujib ur Rahman Omar said at a news conference Wednesday that the government had a policy for managing the drought, including projects to build irrigation canals, dams and check dams — small, sometimes temporary dams in waterways — in Badghis province.

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“Our technical and experienced colleagues are busy in this,” he said, adding that all projects depended on the availability of budgets.

Mohibullah, a Taliban fighter and vice governor of Badghis is well aware that the problem is serious.

“The drought is obvious all over Afghanistan, and it has a greater negative impact on Badghis province,” he recently told the AP in the regional governor’s building in Qala-e-Now, flanked by an entourage of Taliban fighters.

He said that although drought has been a problem since years, this year it was especially severe, affecting around 80 to 85 percent of the local population.

Asad stated that his administration met frequently with aid organisations and added that the government didn’t have the funds to deal with the situation, as the previous government had not left any.

Mayar, a water management expert, stated that humanitarian investment should be focused on small- and mid-scale water projects to reduce drought effects.

“The international community should not restrict climate and natural disaster-related funds due to sanctions,” he said. “Because climate change continues its effects on Afghanistan.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press


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