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Ecological Threats to Afghanistan: Hunger and Pollution are Killing more People than War

The Russian and American wars have created ecological threats to Afghanistan as more people are dying of hunger and pollution than warfare.

Introduction

Ecological threats to Afghanistan have caused dire humanitarian crises. Today, the climate change issue has pushed millions on the verge of famine. This is mainly because the country is in a state of war for decades. Soviet Russia attacked Afghanistan in December 1979 which lasted for nearly a decade.

These cataclysmic days were marked by fierce bombings on different landmasses including agricultural fields, forests, lakes, snow-clad mountain peaks, pastures, and other such places. The situation did not improve even after the withdrawal of Soviet Russia in 1989. In fact, the ecological threats to Afghanistan became more pronounced.

Moreover, the most troubling and untoward happening was the attack of the United States and NATO on Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attack. A serious civil war broke out between liberal forces and the Taliban which made things even worse for the country.

This onslaught with advanced arsenal and weaponry wreaked havoc on the remaining part of nature. Resultantly, the area covered by nature and agricultural products has decreased exponentially. The so-called War on Terror further aggravated ecological threats to Afghanistan.

A 40% reduction in agricultural productivity is one of the ecological threats to Afghanistan.

A detailed study reveals that these abovementioned two wars are the major contributor to the recent ecological threats to Afghanistan. Considering this, UNO and other international organizations have warned about the environmental security of Afghanistan.

Human Security and Ecological Threats to Afghanistan

In recent decades, the concept of human security has become more pervasive and pronounced in international relations and political science. Roland Paris defines human security as “Virtually any kind of unexpected or irregular discomfort could conceivably constitute a threat to one’s human security” (Paris 2001).

It means human security is anything that disrupts any aspect of human life or poses a potential threat. Mahbub ul Haq, a famous economist from Pakistan, gave the concept of ‘human security’ as a supplement to his ‘human development’ concept in the 1993 Human Development Report.

Similarly, In 1994, UNDP’s Human Development Report gives two aspects of human security: firstly, safety from dangers such as hunger and diseases, and secondly, socio-economic and political disruptions (Gasper 2006). It means the focus will be on general things such as food security, disease, and peace and prosperity. 

1992 Earth Summit did not Include Environmental Security

 Interestingly, this was a time when climate change was emerging as the single most important phenomenon. In 1992, an earth summit took place which was a pledge to make climate change the locus of policymaking and adapt to green technology. Reforestation, reducing carbon emissions, and increasing flora and fauna were the key points of this summit.

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Despite this, no attention was paid to this important thing. Six types of securities were taken into consideration: income security, food security, health security, environmental security, community/identity security, and security of political freedoms (Gasper, 2006). Even though many important points came into the security context, environmental security was non-existent.

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But soon the UNDP updated the security gamut and added environmental security. The new lists had economic security, food security, health security, personal security, community security, political security, and environmental security. 

Where Things Got Wrong?

The country has been facing constant warfare since the 1950s. The situation became worse when Muhammad Dawood became the Prime Minister of Afghanistan in 1956. Due to his support for the Russian block, civil unrest started in the country.

The single most important reason behind this was the belief that Soviet Russia was Communist, a system that discourages the role of religion and religious authorities in various segments of life. This led to severe ecological threats to Afghanistan.

As a matter of fact, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Socialism was tantamount to atheism, a belief that God is an illusion. They believe only rationality and science matter, instead of religion.

Socialism, the reason behind the Russian-Afghan war, is based on Karl Marx’s philosophy which equates religion to opium.

Rise of Gun Culture in the Name of Jihad

This divided Afghanistan into two groups: the first one was supporting the government and the second group was standing against the rule that was an ally of atheists. The latter section became more pronounced and stronger and soon it started challenging the sovereignty of the former one.

This supported the Pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan when the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic attacked Afghanistan in December 1979.

The United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and other countries started supporting the people against the Russians. Believing in the idea of waging jihad against an aggressor and an atheist force, the locals became more passionate about the war.

Russian Invasion

The Union of Soviet Socialists Republic attacked Afghanistan with the help of heavy weaponry. Initially, the Russian forces ousted the Afghan fighters who were relying on traditional and old weaponry. More than 14000 Soviet soldiers and around 450,000 Afghans died in the fierce battle that lasted for nearly a decade (Lacina et al. 2005).

The warfare did not just decimate human lives but also hurt ecological footprints. Fields were bombed by advanced fighter jets and gunship helicopters. There was heavy bombing on various places such as agricultural fields, forests, lakes, snow-clad mountain peaks, pastures, and other similar places. Knowing that most of its terrain is mountainous, there is already limited space for agricultural outputs. 

Civil Unrest after the Withdrawal of Soviet Russia

The situation did not improve even after the withdrawal of Soviet Russia in 1989. The next seven years witnessed civil warfare and widespread socio-economic disruptions. Taliban soon took over the country in 1996. They ruled for the next five years before the United States launched an all-out attack on Afghanistan to round up terrorists including Osama bin Laden who was responsible for the 9/11 incident.

By 1996, the Taliban had taken over most of the country. This regime was overthrown by the 2001 attack by the United States, NATO, and allies because the government had given refuge to Osama Bin Laden, one of the key masterminds of the 9/11 attack. 

2° Celsius Increase in Temperature

Ecological threats to Afghanistan look more threatening because the average temperature is likely to rise over 2° Celsius. It is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Many experts believe the increased poverty, substandard health, educational, agricultural, and economic infrastructure have been destroyed by environmental hazards. Extreme and unexpected weather patterns not only kill people directly but also cause other challenges such as storms, floods, water shortage, famines, and decreased annual rainfall.

In Afghanistan, the projected increase in temperature is 2° Celsius which is more than the global increase of 1.5° Celsius by 2050. It means Afghanistan is becoming hotter and hotter with each passing day which will increase average precipitation by 8% to 10.

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Besides, the average temperature in Afghanistan has steadily increased by 0.6% since 1960 which is a nerve-wracking fact. The ecological threats to Afghanistan especially increased temperature looks abnormally high from the 1980s onwards when warfare reached its culmination.

Resources-starved Afghanistan and Climate Change Crisis

Warfares and the subsequent ecological threats to Afghanistan have escalated precipitation in Afghanistan. The unexpected floods and heatwaves have exponentially reduced the agricultural output. The decreasing agricultural productivity has become one of the daunting ecological threats to Afghanistan.

According to an estimate, the country lost 30% of farmland and pastures due to degradation. The arable land of the country is 16% of the total landmass. 64% of the landmass consists of highlands comprising the Himalayan Ranges and Hindu Kush Ranges.

Despite this, only 7% of the landmass is available for agriculture which is due to poor water management over time, which shows the worsened ecological threats to Afghanistan.

The shortage of dams that help to store water for agriculture means the country will have reduced agricultural outputs. It looks especially serious considering that the population in Afghanistan is increasing exponentially for many decades. 

Deforestation as a Substitute for Pistachio Cultivation

Muhammad et al (2018) in Environmental Degradation due to War in Afghanistan: A Review” say that ecological threats to Afghanistan are far more potential than any other challenge. The authors say that due to unchecked warfare, the denizens have not acquired the economic dividends of the natural resources

For instance, the pistachio is one of the all-important fruits. It only gives a source of income to the people but also provides much-needed vegetation and greenery to reduce pollution, storms, and floods. People tried to compensate for this loss by cutting trees which led to deforestation on a large scale, one major form of ecological threat to Afghanistan.

The Russian and American wars have created ecological threats to Afghanistan as more people are dying of hunger and pollution than warfare.
In Afghanistan, forest cover has been reduced to a mere 2%, far less than the 25% global standard. This deforestation is one of the daunting ecological challenges to Afghanistan.

Warlords have Monopolized different Jungles

The situation became even worse when warlords monopolized different forests. This capture not only helped them cut trees for economic interest but also gave them refuge. This reduced the forest cover from 3% to 2% which is far less than 25% according to the World Bank. 

Deforestation along with the conflicts in recent years has made the country exceedingly polluted. Sadly, the resultant pollution is killing more people than conflict (Gauster, 2021). A report by the Health Effects Institute’s State of Global Air shows that more than 51,600 people died due to pollution such as air pollution.

Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is one of the dustiest and most polluted cities in the world. Similarly, more than 80% of water is acidized, weaponized, radiated, and polluted.

Issue of Landmines is another ecological threat to Afghanistan

The issue of landmines has devastated the agriculture of the war-torn country. Different factions target opponents (Taliban and Alqaeda attack the United States, NATO, and allies by employing landmines. These are hidden bombs that blast once someone passes nearby or on it. Due to this, nearly 20 to 30 people especially common people die due to blasts. This has caused the fear of death which makes people avoid investing in certain areas.

The situation of the agricultural sector looks more serious, considering that Afghanistan is a landlocked country. It means it does not have direct access to the sea or exploit its economic dividends. There are two only two major rivers that feed 38 million people. 

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Severe Draughts: one the Ecological Threats to Afghanistan

Food and Agriculture Organization regards draughts, as one of the ecological threats to Afghanistan. They experienced 8 severe droughts for 12 years (2001-2011) in areas impacted by the US bombing. The 2018 draught affected 22 of the 34 provinces. Taliban also made over 13000 potential bomb attacks that devastated the ecology of Afghanistan. This bombing accelerated the pace of water shortage as people started dying of hunger and thirst.

Hirmu Shimizu (2021) believes that “One well will do more good than 100 clinics’ in Afghanistan which shows the dire water shortage (Shimizu, 2021). He terms this drought phase, El Nino, which is an extreme yet unexpected weather condition for some years. War and the use of chemicals burned forests and decreased economic activities.

Shortage of Rainfall and Increased Evapotranspiration

The droughts further exacerbated the crisis of food security created by the Soviet invasion. Global warming due to the rise in atmospheric temperature resulted in the loss of mountain snow. The shortage of rainfall and increased evapotranspiration also caused water shortages.

Such droughts gave way to regional armed struggle and failing agricultural villages—all this increased food shortage and the proportion of the starving population (Shimizu, 2021).

Support from International Community: Too Late and Too Little

Since 2009, 174 projects worth $1.2 billion have been completed with the collaboration Asian Development Bank, World Bank Groups, and other financial institutions. Additionally, Asian Development Bank has provided loans worth $1 billion to the public. Infrastructure, including water infrastructure, is among the core areas of focus for these financial institutions (Hilali et al., 2019).

US Pull-out, Taliban’s Take Over

The ecological threats to Afghanistan look even worse in the wake of the recent US pull-out from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s take over. The United States, NATO, and numerous financial institutions had started addressing this issue. A handsome budget was allocated to improve the agricultural productivity of Afghanistan, build dams and improve the overall infrastructure of the country.

Things before the US withdrawal were quite better and life would go smooth and normal. There were fewer cases of violence and nothing seemed to go wrong except the weaker political economy of the country. The constant support from the international community had put things in the right swing.

Now, Afghanistan is again in a fix. The international community along with NATO and other financial institutions such as Asian Development Bank and World Bank Groups have ceased the development projects related to the ecological threats to Afghanistan.

Taliban may prove an effective administrator, but the lack of support from the global community will pose a serious threat to the state’s resilience and security of the country.

Ecological Threats to Afghanistan: The US pull-out poses serious ecological threats to Afghanistan, at least in the short-run

India’s Shahtoot Dam on the Maidan River

Before the Taliban’s takeover, the international community was actively working to mitigate the climate change crisis in Afghanistan. For instance, India was constructing the Shahtoot Dam on the Maidan River, in cooperation with the World Bank Group, to ensure and increase the water supply of Kabul and beyond. The dam would be a landmark achievement because it could have given safe drinking water to over 2 million people in Kabul.

A troubling fact is that more than 68% of the people in Kabul do not have access to clean water. Due to poor water, they face many potential health challenges. Further, the dam could boost agricultural growth which is the source of income for nearly 60% of the people. The project had an initial cost of $236 million that was sponsored by the World Bank and India.

International Financial Institutions and Ecological Threats to Afghanistan

Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, the financial support from the International Development Association (IDA), the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had continually increased. For instance, IBRD and IDA pledged 338 million dollars in Afghanistan to avert ecological threats to Afghanistan.

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The amount surged exponentially in 2021 as these two banks had already invested over 652 million dollars. These efforts were helping the country overcome the potential ecological challenges of the country caused by warfare over the past few decades.

Poor Risk Management in Afghanistan and ADB

Asian Development Bank was also closely working with the government to forestall the ecological threats to Afghanistan. The aim of the various investments made by ADB was to develop a better risk management system in the country. The poor and substandard infrastructure regarding the risk management system costs Afghanistan billions of dollars.

Floods in 2018-19 caused damage of over $600 million dollars (3% of the total GDP of the country). This flood was more destructive because of poor prediction and a flawed water storage mechanism. The bank is investing in crisis management infrastructure. There is a state of chaos and incertitude after the Taliban’s take over, which makes ecological threats to Afghanistan more alarming.

Conclusion

It is quite conspicuous that continual war in Afghanistan brought about and then worsened ecological threats to Afghanistan. The country’s average temperature is increasing higher than the average global warming. The forest cover has also decreased from 3% to 2% which means climate change is posing an existential threat to the people.

More people are likely to die due to issues like heat waves, food shortages, water shortages, storms, and floods. Although the international community is making efforts to address the issue, more robust action actions are due to undo the lurking ecological threats to Afghanistan.

                                                                  

References

Aich, V., Akhundzadah, N. A., Knuerr, A., Khoshbeen, A. J., Hattermann, F., Paeth, H., Scanlon, A. & Paton, E. N. 2017. “Climate change in Afghanistan deduced from reanalysis and coordinated regional climate downscaling experiment” (CORDEX)—South Asia simulations. Climate, 5, 38.

Asian Development Bank (2017). Afghanistan, 2017–2021 —Achieving Inclusive Growth in a Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situation.

Climate Risk Country Profile: Afghanistan (2020): The World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank.

Gaster, M. 2021. “Ecological threats to security and state resilience in Afghanistan.” Security and Defence Quarterly.

Gordon, Neve, and Nicola Perugini. 2020. “Human Shields: A History of People in the Line of Fire.” University of California Press.

Hilali, A., Charoenngam, C. & Barman, A. 2019. ”Barriers in contractual scope management of international development projects in Afghanistan,”  Engineering, Construction, and Architectural Management

Lacina et al (2005). “Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths”. European Journal of Population. 21 (2–3): 154

Mohammad, N., Zahidullah & Ghulam, K. 2018. ”Environmental degradation due to War in Afghanistan: A Review,” Peshawar: University of Peshawar.

Paris, R. 2001. ”Human security: paradigm shift or hot air?” International Security, 26, 87-102.

Shimizu, H. 2021. ”International Entanglement of Drought, War, and Rehabilitation in Afghanistan: A Sketch from the Viewpoint of Dr. NAKAMURA’s Irrigation Project,” Kansai University. UNDP, U. 1994. ”Human Development Report 1994: New dimensions of human security,” NY: Oxford University Press

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By Rizwan Bosan

I am a ghostwriter and blogger. My 3.91 GPA in English graduation earned me a gold medal. I also hold a degree in advanced writing from the University of California.

6 replies on “Ecological Threats to Afghanistan: Hunger and Pollution are Killing more People than War”

In 1990s the decade was declared for developing Eco critical consciousness but in vain. Eco critical condition are not only alarming for Afghanistan but it’s spreading all around. Most importantly haphaxard human development is the real threat for our environment.
It’s a superb effort dear

You’ve elucidate a stringent point regarding environmental security and changes. Appreciated!

Overall it was a worth reading article. All these facts and figures were shocking for me. Now I’m more known abut the situation in Afghanistan.

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