Afghanistan's changing climate is causing poverty to worsen

SANG-E–ATASH, Afghanistan (AP), This valley, nestled between the jagged peaks of northwestern Afghanistan, was once fertile. Locals claim that the climate has changed over the past few decades leaving the earth barren, and the people struggling to survive.

Afghanistan's changing climate is causing poverty to worsen

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

Abdul Ghani (53), a community leader in Sang-e-Atash in the province of Badghis, said that he remembers from his childhood that there was snow in winter and rain in spring.

"But, since a few decades ago, there has been drought. There is no snow and there is less rain. He said that it was impossible to even get one bowl water from the drainpipes to use, and he also observed Red Crescent Society giving emergency winter food supplies for farmers who had lost their crops.

Now in its second year of severe drought, the country's already dire situation has been made worse by the extreme drought. After four decades of war, Afghans now have to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The economy is also in freefall after international funding was frozen by the Taliban. This happened in the midst of a chaotic withdrawal from NATO and the U.S. troops. Aid groups warn that millions of people are starving and there is a risk of a humanitarian disaster and rising malnutrition.

Many families living in the Sang-e-Atash region rely on the Red Crescent for help during winter. Mustafa Nabikhil is the regional head of western Afghanistan for Red Crescent. He said that 558 families received food in three days. The food included flour, rice beans, cooking oils, sugar, salt and tea as well as high-calorie, vitamin rich biscuits.

Nabikhil stated that Badghis's farmers are especially vulnerable because there is no irrigation system in the area, making them dependent on the weather.

They will eat if it rains. They won't eat if it doesn't rain. Their despair is palpable.

Ghani stated, "There is no solution. We are just destroyed." "We cannot go to any foreign country. We don't have the money. We must end up digging our graves and dying."

Necephor Mghendi is the head of the Afghanistan Delegation of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He said that drought is causing "worrying food insecurity" with more than 22.8 million Afghans -- more than 55% -- suffering from acute food insecurity.

He said that severe drought had affected more than 60% the country's provinces. However, "there is no one province unaffected since some are experiencing serious or moderate drought."

He stated that if urgent measures are not taken, it will lead to a catastrophe in the humanitarian world. It is undoubtedly the most severe humanitarian crisis currently in the world. The saddest thing is that prompt and timely action could have prevented it escalating.

Many people find that the current conditions are already dangerous.

Juma Gul (45), one of many people who were displaced by the drought, said that "we have nothing". She was sitting in a Red Crescent mobile clinic outside Badghis' provincial capital Qala-e-Now. Her family survived on loans from shopkeepers, with nine children and a husband who couldn't find work. She said that even these have dried up.

"Sometimes food is found and other times not. We only eat dry bread and green tea. We cannot buy flour or rice because it is too expensive."

Abdul Haqim, a farmer from Hachka, was looking out over his barren fields, as the cold wind blew across cracks in the cracked earth. It was once able to grow wheat and provide for his 18-member family. It is now empty.

He said, "There is no rain. There is drought." He said that many people from his village, including three of the adult sons, had fled to Iran. He is considering sending a fourth boy, even though the boy is only 12. This is the only way for his family to survive.

"My friend. People are leaving this area. He said that some people leave behind their children and move on.

Experts predict that climate change will increase drought severity and frequency. Since years, they have been sounding the alarm over Afghanistan.

According to a 2016 report from the World Food Program, United Nations Environment Program, and Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency, "Climate Change in Afghanistan is not an uncertain future risk, but a very real threat that has already been felt by millions" This drought is the worst for decades.

Assem Mayar is a water resource management expert at the University of Stuttgart and a PhD candidate. "The impact of climate change, global warming in Afghanistan are very clear in many ways," he said. He said that 14% of Afghanistan's glaciers has melted in the past 20 years, and that the number of droughts has increased by two-fold over the same period.

Flood severity and frequency have also increased. There has also been a shift in snow from the early winter to the spring. Mayar said that this affects the country's water balance as snow by its very nature is more persistent than rainwater and runs out in the country within 2-14 days. Afghanistan's water reservoirs are also smaller than those in neighboring countries, and are therefore 10 times smaller.

Mayar stated that the previous government had created a strategy to manage drought risks. However, with the August change of government, all has been stopped.

At Wednesday's news conference, Mujib Ur Rahman Omar, Deputy Minister for Water, stated that the government has a strategy for managing drought. This includes projects to build irrigation canals, dams, and check dams. These small dams are sometimes temporary in Badghis province waterways.

He said that "our technical and experienced colleagues" were busy with this project, while adding that budget availability was a key factor in all projects.

Mohibullah, a Taliban fighter and vice governor of Badghis is acutely aware of the seriousness of the problem.

"The drought is evident all over Afghanistan, but it has a greater adverse impact on Badghis Province," he said to the AP recently in Qala-e-Now's regional governor's office, flanked with a group of Taliban fighters.

He said that although drought has been an issue for many years, this year it was especially severe and affected about 80-85% locals.

Asad stated that his administration met frequently with aid organizations and added that the government did not have the funds to address the situation because the previous government had done nothing.

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

He stated that the international community should not limit climate and natural catastrophe-related funds because of sanctions. "Because climate changes continue to have an impact on Afghanistan."

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