Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale
Last month we wrote about the end of the American occupation of Afghanistan and the Taliban victory. This piece is about climate change in Afghanistan. The topic is urgent. Afghanistan is one of countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change.
This year a long-running drought caused by climate change has reduced the harvest by almost half. Hunger and famine threaten unless Afghans receive a great deal of aid, quickly. But there is the looming danger that US financial sanctions will make aid work impossible and combine with hunger to create economic collapse.
This article begins with the effects of climate change in Afghanistan over the last 50 years. Then we talk about the situation now. We argue that instead of making war for twenty years, the Americans could have worked to create climate jobs and prevent the climate crisis. We end with ideas of what people in other countries can do politically to help Afghans facing climate disaster.
In many parts of the world people see climate change as a terrible threat in the future. In Afghanistan that threat has been eating away at the fabric of the economy and society for half a century.
Since 1750 climate change has already warmed the world by an average of 1.1 degrees centigrade. Afghanistan is warming at more than double the global average. Scientists and the UN now urge us to keep the total increase below 1.5 degrees if possible, and absolutely to avoid the dangers of passing 2.0. Afghanistan warmed by 2.0 degrees between 1951 and 2020. By 2050, thirty years from now, temperatures in Afghanistan are likely to rise by another 2 degrees.
This is happening in what is already one of the poorest and most arid countries on earth. On the plains, and in the summers, it is already very hot. Only 5% of the land can produce crops, and most of that only with irrigation. Most people live on 2 dollars a day or less. Now that the crops have failed, the price of food will rise rapidly.
The most important effect of rising temperatures is drought. Andrej Přívara and Magdalena Přívarova write that, “Striking droughts in Afghanstan have become a solid feature of its climate. Several severe droughts have been recorded with a tendency to increase the frequency of the drought cycle, for instance, 1963–64, 1966–67, 1970–72 and 1998–2006. The period 1998–2006 appeared to be the longest and most extreme drought in the climate history of Afghanistan.”
Notice that the drought from 1998 to 2006 lasted eight years. Since then, there has been the drought of 2013-14, and the drought that started in 2018 continues today.
Two accounts of the early days of climate change in Afghanistan can help us understand what that could mean. One account is from the north of the country, and one from the south.
Nancy writes: In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers, the Piruzai, for nearly a year. Hajji Tuman was our host throughout our stay with the Piruzai. This is a picture of Tuman and his daughter, Maygol. They were crazy about each other.