Afghanistan discusses climate change disaster, calls for urgent coordinated action

19 Oct 2023

Afghanistan discusses climate change disaster, calls for urgent coordinated action

KABUL – With Afghanistan facing increasing challenges due to the impacts of climate change, a series of discussions has brought together experts and stakeholders to explore strategies and solutions for building resilience.

As part of Global Climate Change Week, participants representing academia, the de facto authorities, civil society, international organizations, and the private sector are taking part in events throughout October and early November in several Afghan provinces – including Bamyan, Herat, Jalalabad, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunduz, and Mazar-e Sharif – to discuss challenges, initiatives and opportunities to address the unfolding crisis.

Afghanistan is experiencing a rise in extreme weather conditions, notably floods, drought, and sand and dust storms, resulting in the loss of lives and livelihoods and significant damage to infrastructure. Last year, the country endured its worst drought in 30 years.

The combination of four decades of war, worsening socioeconomic conditions, internal displacement, and climate change have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

During a climate change conference in Kabul earlier this week, experts, policymakers, and scientists highlighted the toll of climate change on communities. They emphasized the urgent need for coordinated efforts to address the country’s climate crisis.

“Climate change is not a far-off phenomenon; it is already unfolding now,” said UNAMA’s Charity Watson, detailing her findings and firsthand accounts of communities across the country being ravaged by disasters related to climate change.

Stressing that climate change is ultimately a shared burden with impacts across countries, ethnicities, religions, race, and gender, Watson said the most affected are those who are already the most vulnerable, especially rural communities and women and children.

Climate shocks across Afghanistan

In the northern Balkh Province, an elder recounted how his community, which, like the rest of the country, heavily depends on agriculture and livestock herding, has been severely impacted by extreme and unpredictable weather patterns.

“The rains no longer come on time,” he said.

“When we need rain, it’s dry. When we don’t need rain, there is too much.”

Across Afghanistan, from the province of Balkh and Faryab to Helmand and Nimroz, the stories are the same: of communities battered by drought, water scarcity, severe floods, dust storms, heat waves, desertification, and food scarcity. Family systems and support structures are being decimated and pushed to the brink; young men are deserting villages in search of work in the cities or neighboring countries, and girls are married off early. Women and children bear the most burden, impacting their physical and mental health.

“Despite 40 years of mistrust between Afghans during the war, at least we had been able to trust nature,” recounted another elder, “but now we cannot even trust the rain.”

Least contributors to climate change but most at risk

Despite being one of the lowest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions globally – less than 0.1 per cent - Afghanistan is one of the 10 countries most at risk of a crisis and eighth on the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index of countries most vulnerable and least prepared to adapt to climate change.

Four decades of conflict, underdevelopment and unprecedented humanitarian crisis have set Afghanistan far behind in building much needed climate resilience and adaptive capacity. Following the Taliban takeover in August 2021, development funding to Afghanistan has been largely frozen, with large scale support on climate change also impacted.

The UN in Afghanistan has been supporting with humanitarian aid in response to shocks such as droughts, floods, or other natural disasters like the most recent devastating earthquakes in Western Province of Herat, which flattened whole villages, killed hundreds and left thousands homeless.

Global Climate Change Week

The 2023 Global Climate Change Week, under the theme, ‘Connecting minds for a sustainable climate future,’ brings together thousands of people through different events and platforms to engage with each other, explore and share ideas on climate action and solutions.

In making their recommendations, participants emphasized the need for Afghanistan to prioritize building resilience strategies, international collaboration, and investment in technologies and local solutions for vulnerable communities.