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Climate change: Afghans on the front line

Nov 06, 2014

A new UN report warns that "irreversible" climate change is affecting more people than ever, writes Joe Dyke.

Mazar-I-Sharif: In northern Afghanistan, the residents don't often use the phrase - most don't even know it. But as they describe how increasingly extreme weather patterns are making their lives harder every year, they map out many of the symptoms of climate change. As a new UN report warns that "irreversible" climate change is affecting more people than ever, these Afghans are on the front line.

Naim Korbon says he is 90 years old, though he admits he does not really know. Either way he is too old to be carrying cement. Yet in the northern Afghan village of Rozi Bay in Balkh Province, he and his extended family are rebuilding their homes.

Earlier this year his life's work was destroyed as vicious floods cascaded through the area. It was, local experts say, the worst to hit the region in 42 years. Nearly half of the village was swept away, including Korbon's home. All down his street buildings - many of them over 50 years old - are slumped; roofs sliding off, surrounded by piles of debris. "We will rebuild it all better than before," Korbon said, picking up his shovel.

Floods are not the only weather making the residents' lives harder. In the nearby village of Baghacha Khan Mula local representative Abdul Jalote Mufakar pointed at the barren earth with a sense of resignation. "In recent years, there are no crops. Only almonds grow any more," he said.

This pattern of long droughts, poor harvests and flash floods has been a growing trend for the people of northern Afghanistan, with experts largely in agreement that the climate is becoming more extreme. A new report identified Afghanistan as one of 11 countries globally at extreme risk of both climate change and food insecurity.

One trend is for late, harsh cold snaps that can mean snow and sleet hit just as crops and fruits are blossoming, killing the produce. "Every year the cold season comes later and stays later," Mufakar says.

Such cold snaps also help make the floods more intense, Andrew Scanlon, country director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), explained: "If you are getting late snow it is warmer and melts faster. If you get snow up to April, it is not very consolidated and it melts in May; whereas if you get snow in February or March it packs and lasts all the way through until August."

High risks

Scanlon estimates that since 1982 temperatures in northern Afghanistan have risen about 0.8 degrees per decade, though he accepts that the data is not reliable enough to know for certain.

These changes have coincided with, and partly led to, increasing poverty for the residents in Balkh. In the 1970s, the average Tajik family (the majority ethnic grouping in the area) in northern Afghanistan had 100 goats, one cow and two oxen, according to a report by the NGO Action Against Hunger. Today, it is seven goats and less than one cow or ox per family.

Click here to read the full article.

SOURCE: IRIN

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