Afghanistan – The Climate Crisis

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Last month we wrote about the end of the American occupation of Afghanistan and the Taliban victory.[1] 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.”[2]

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.

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Translations of Afghanistan: The End of the Occupation into French, German, Greek, Italian, Korean and Spanish

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write:

Our recent post on Afghanistan has been translated into several languages, and there is a nice interview with Jacobin Radio. The links are below.

For the original post in English on this site, link here.

For the FRENCH translation, link here

For the GERMAN translation, link here

For the GREEK translation, link here

For the ITALIAN translation, link here

For the KOREAN translation, link here

For the SPANISH translation, link here

And for a longish interview with Jacobin Radio, link here. Our interview begins 21:15 in.

In INDIA, it has also been republished here in English.

A big thank you to all the people who did this work.

For a selection of some of our other work on Afghanistan, link here.

Afghanistan: The End of the Occupation

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: A lot of nonsense about Afghanistan is being written in Britain and the United States. Most of this nonsense hides a number of important truths.

First, the Taliban have defeated the United States.

Second, the Taliban have won because they have more popular support.

Third, this is not because most Afghans love the Taliban. It is because the American occupation has been unbearably cruel and corrupt.

Fourth, the War on Terror has also been politically defeated in the United States. The majority of Americans are now in favor of withdrawal from Afghanistan and against any more foreign wars.

Fifth, this is a turning point in world history. The greatest military power in the world has been defeated by the people of a small, desperately poor country. This will weaken the power of the American empire all over the world.

Sixth, the rhetoric of saving Afghan women has been widely used to justify the occupation, and many feminists in Afghanistan have chosen the side of the occupation. The result is a tragedy for feminism.

This article explains these points. Because this a short piece, we assert more than we prove. But we have written a great deal about gender, politics and war in Afghanistan since we did fieldwork there as anthropologists almost fifty years ago. We give links to much of this work at the end of this article, so you can explore our arguments in more detail.[1]

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My First Day in Camp with the Piruzai – Afghanistan, 1971

Nancy Lindisfarne-Tapper

My friend Maryam

In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers for nearly a year. The Piruzai, some 200 families, lived in two small settlements near the town of Sar-e Pol in northern Afghanistan. They were Pashtu-speakers, pastoralists and peasant farmers, poor people, working very hard to survive in a vicious feudal system.

The people, the setting, and even the division of labour between Richard and myself seemed to conform to every stereotype about the Middle East. There were veiled women, men on horseback, camel caravans, stunning scenery and dramatic lives. These were stereotypes shared by the Afghan officials, politicians and urban professionals we met in Kabul. But the people we met were not two dimensional.

They were warm, funny, clear-thinking and tough. They understood we were doing research – anthropology – insanshenasi – and they wanted to help us ‘write a book’. They wanted their words to be heard and written down. Living with the Piruzai was an immense privilege and our obligation to tell the story of the Piruzai is on-going. Continue reading