Climate change is already affecting Afghanistan. The world worries about the extremist regime, but Afghans are also at risk from drought and famine. The Taliban returned in 2021, and so has the drought – writes Heidi Kingstone.
The country is fast plunging into the worst humanitarian crisis. The economy has virtually collapsed, the cash shortage has sent food and fuel prices rocketing. The World Health Organization fears that 3.2 million children could be at risk from severe malnutrition, a third of those likely to die in the coming winter months. Since the takeover, the Biden administration has frozen $9.5 billion in foreign reserves, and the economy is predicted to contract by a third. By next year, 97 per cent of the population could live below the poverty line.
“The current economic restrictions and sanctions policy, if maintained and not adjusted, are on track to hurt the Afghan people — through deprivation and famine — more than the Taliban’s brutalities and poor governance,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. It’s hardly surprising that desperate Afghan refugees are turning up in Poland and the English Channel.
For the last half-century, the droughts in Afghanistan, one of the aridest countries on Earth and one of the most vulnerable to climate change, have become more prolonged and more frequent. They are occurring now every three or four years as opposed to every seven. Since 1950, the country has warmed at twice the global average. Rising temperatures equal drought. This affects the people’s already precarious livelihoods. Most Afghans live on less than US$2.00 a day. [A massive contrast to the old days when international consultants were paid US$2000.00 per day, and monthly rents of Kabul houses were in the many thousands.]
Droughts in poor countries have a much more drastic effect on the population than in more affluent countries that can withstand the impact. Around 80 per cent of the population live in rural areas, and agriculture contributes to 28 per cent of the GDP and employs approximately 60 per cent of the people.
In an electrifying article on their blog, Anne Bonny Pirate, Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: “Droughts kill the livestock because there is no grass. Droughts also kill half of the crop, and in some places, all the crops. Farmers with land borrow money, and recurrent droughts trap them in a cycle of debt until they have lost all their land. Drought has created the landless poor, who head to the cities or abroad to survive. Afghanistan’s rate of urbanisation is one of the highest in Central Asia.
With falling harvests, the price of food rises. The majority of Afghans, rural and urban, already live on the edge of hunger. According to the World Food Programme, around 35 per cent of Afghans had faced food shortages before September 2021. That’s about 14 million people or one in three who suffer from food insecurity. Half of all children under five were malnourished.
Most families spend a large part of their income on flour. With the rise of oil prices, transportation costs also rise, in some areas by 50 per cent. It is estimated that 40 per cent of the wheat crop has already failed.
“There has never been a famine anywhere on Earth in which everyone dies….The question of government policy becomes crucial,” write Lindisfarne and Neale. “Suppose the government can control the grain or get food aid from other countries. The government can distribute food fairly. In that case, famine can be averted. We should be clear about the U.S. government policy. The instruments are financial. The intent is to create widespread famine. Among other things, that will kill large numbers of women and children. The hope in Washington is that famine will produce chaos, civil war, mass movements of refugees, neighbour turning upon neighbour, and eventually the fall of the Taliban.”
That is why Lindisfarne and Nancy believe the U.S. government is “weaponising climate change to kill and kill to avenge their defeat by the Taliban”. Many people in the rural areas did not benefit from the trillions of dollars poured into the economy. Their relatives and neighbours were killed, which is why they supported the Taliban and not the rapacious warlords or the corrupt Kabul government.
What if the Americans had invested in solar and wind power over the last twenty years instead of in war, ask Neale and Lindisfarne? There could have been solar power to heat homes in the bitingly cold winter and enough energy to export to the region. And at a fraction of the cost of war. The world might have viewed the U.S. as a “beacon”. Now we have a version of Hell. That’s why they say, “Afghanistan is a climate Issue.”