The Emergency Response Commission of the government of Afghanistan has warned that 14 provinces are facing the prospect of drought over the coming months. This is no surprise as international institutions, including the U.S. government, had also warned earlier that the year 2011 would be a very dry year for Afghanistan, and that many region of the country will come under the threat of prolonged periods of drought.
In line with sweeping effects of climate change unfolding in other countries and regions of the world, Afghanistan too is increasingly coming under the spell cast by this global phenomenon. Droughts, long dry periods, less rainfall and snowfall, sooner-than-usual melting of snow glaciers in mountainous areas and no mechanism in place to manage the barrage of incoming surface waters are the reasons for the persistence of dry conditions in large swaths of the country.
This is so while Afghanistan, fortunately, is endowed with significant water resources both underground and on the surface. Lack of management of surface water resources means that while available water in significant quantities goes away unharnessed, those regions and areas where need water the most go dry.
The provinces and regions that are already facing drought situation are predominantly in the northern half of the country. From Badakhshan in the Northeast to Herat in the Western sector and Bamyan and Daikundi in the center, drought and crop failures are forecast to be significant this year.
The socio-economic impacts of drought and loss of agricultural produce and income to vulnerable people is devastating. According to the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, up to 400,000 Afghan families are in the immediate danger of losing their livelihoods this year as the prevalent dry conditions mean that their insufficient stocks of food and grain will not see them through the upcoming winter.
This number of affected families corresponds to a minimum of 4 million Afghans. This means that one in every six Afghans is food-insecure and dependent on food aid in order to have a minimum of food and nutrition until the harvest time of next year.
Afghanistan's economy is predominantly agrarian. Agriculture, as before, still constitutes the backbone of Afghan's indigenous economy. Over the past one decade, there have been improvements in the agricultural sector with Afghanistan registering so-called bumper harvests of grains for some of these years.
Production of wheat and other grains has been steadily rising over the past decade. It has been only in the past two years that droughts and dry conditions have emerged as a critical problem, casting a long shadow over Afghanistan's ability to grow the food that it consumes.
Afghanistan and Climate Change
Climate change should enter the lexicon of our policy-makers and planners in national and sub-national levels. Climate change, as it is across the world, is a very real threat that faces Afghanistan and complicates and threatens the country' chances to move on the path to development and economic prosperity.
A study conducted by the U.K. Department for International Development showed that the annual amount of rainfall and snowfall, or precipitation in scientific jargon, has been steadily decreasing in Afghanistan since1960.
With every very passing decade, Afghanistan has lost 2 percent of its rain and snowfall due to Climate Change and its accompanying impacts on local and regional climates. The same study establishes that average temperature across Afghanistan has increased by 0.6°C since 1960. This general warming across Afghanistan is is line with a pattern of rising temperatures across the region in which Afghanistan is located. On a personal level, Kabul winters are now decidedly not as cold as they were a few decades ago.
These subtle and seemingly small and insignificant changes in Afghanistan's climate over decades is slowly wreaking havoc with the ability of the people of this country to feed and provide for themselves. The worrying part is that the pace of these changes is accelerating. A few decades down the line, it might be well too late for Afghanistan to prevent the devastating socio-economic impacts that would emanate from these climatic changes.
Unfortunately, the very real threat of climate change and its deeply negative impacts on Afghanistan find no place in Afghanistan's national and sub-national plans of development; not even at least in theory if not in action.
If one looks at the Afghanistan's National Development Strategy adopted in 2008, it makes no mention of climate change and provisions to tackle it on a long-term basis. But then again, Afghanistan's National Development Strategy has largely been a failure so far; it has remained good only on paper with Afghanistan able to make no meaningful stride towards getting itself closer to achieving the plan's vision.
If anything, the deteriorating security situation, the war against the Taliban and the headline grabbing stories of death and destruction have prevented the government of Afghanistan and the international community to adequately address Afghanistan's other equally dangerous but more subtle vulnerabilities. War and ongoing civil strife are only the visible tips of the iceberg of Afghanistan's myriad problems.
For now and over the coming months, there are going to be millions of hungry, food-insecure and drought-stricken Afghans strewn throughout the country. The government of Afghanistan and the international community, in partnership with aid agencies such as the World Food Program need to muster the will and the money required to keep these millions fed and cared for over the approaching winter. The WFP says it is short of required funds and has already scaled back its operations in Afghanistan.
A renewed focus on revitalizing Afghanistan's agriculture sector is and should be a priority for the government and the international community. Efforts on the front of saving the country from the clutches of first, the Taliban and second, their dark-skinned masters should not interfere with the crucial goal of moving towards food security for the people and nation of Afghanistan.
To look at the issue from another angle, providing physical security would be difficult to achieve without achieving food security for the people of Afghanistan. It is hunger and unemployment that are partly responsible for driving the vicious cycle of war and conflict in Afghanistan.
It is imperative upon the government of Afghanistan to renew its commitment to moving forward and gradual implementation of Afghanistan National Development Strategy as the country's second most important national document after the Constitution. Within ANDS, revitalizing the country's agricultural sector must be given priority and the political will, funding and technical expertise provided for achieving this goal.