By Ariana Siddiqui 

How are Afghan communities experiencing the climate crisis?

Climate change is impacting different parts of the world unequally, with the Global South, including countries like Afghanistan, bearing the brunt of the crisis despite contributing the least to rising global temperatures. Afghanistan is one of the world’s lowest emitters of greenhouse gases. Yet, due to decades of conflict, natural resource extraction and environmental degradation, the country now faces severe and regular climate disasters. In the past few years alone, prolonged drought conditions have fuelled staggeringly high food insecurity, and increasingly regular flash floods have devastated homes, infrastructure and agricultural lands.

Despite the climate challenges they currently face, Afghans have long held a deep reverence to the land - as is the case with many indigenous communities across the world - with a deep agricultural heritage that has resiliently sustained its people for millennia.

To truly progress decolonised climate action in a meaningful and lasting way, we must reflect this rich heritage in adaptation initiatives. This means prioritising existing local knowledge of land, nature and resilience, and committing to the ongoing process of providing communities with the tools they need to lead their own sustainable climate initiatives. Afghanaid is devoted to doing just that.

Love of Land and Nature in Afghan Culture and Islam 

Rain is described as a source of life, rivers as a source of direction, mountains as a sense of grounding, and the honey from bees as a source of healing. 

A deep connection to land and environment is popularly reflected in Afghan poetry, one of the most accessible and practiced forms of cultural expression in the country. Poetry is often shared as an oral tradition, carrying meaning, messages and memory across time and space, which is particularly important as Afghans continue to be displaced by climate disasters and decades of conflict. With Islam being the religion practiced by the majority of the population, many lessons regarding sustainability and respect for the environment also come from Quranic teachings. Surah An-Nahl, or “The Bee'', the 16th chapter of the Qur'an, gives vivid descriptions of the earth and the beauty and resources it provides to sustain human and animal life. Rain is described as a source of life, rivers as a source of direction, mountains as a sense of grounding, and the honey from bees as a source of healing. 

Despite facing severe climate disasters today, Afghan communities have traditionally cherished the earth, recognising the natural world as a source of beauty as well as sustaining all life. Afghan poet, Partaw Naderi writes: 

The earth opens her warm arms 

To embrace me

The earth is my mother

She understands the sorrow

Of my wandering

As the climate crisis manifests as a water crisis in Afghanistan, it's important to understand how Afghans value water specifically. Rumi, one of the most famous Persian poets, born in what is now modern-day Afghanistan, wrote the line, “Be like a river in generosity and giving help,”  highlighting rivers as symbols of generosity and emphasising their crucial role in Afghan life and culture.

Afghanistan has many beautiful waterways, with communities residing in river valleys amid iconic mountain ranges. However, the climate crisis threatens the longevity of these mountain ecosystems, and subsequently the communities dependent on them. With Afghanistan’s mean temperature rising by 1.8 degrees Celsius since 1950 - twice the global average - rivers across the country have begun to dry up and snow is melting too rapidly, fuelling a myriad of challenges. Reza Mohammadi, an Afghan poet born in Kandahar in 1979, wrote the poem titled Letter to the Rain. This poem, addressed to the rain, stresses the absence felt by lack of water, and mirrors the insecurity felt by agricultural communities each planting season:

Dear rain,

Winter has passed

And even the spring approaches her end

You are badly missed in the garden

When will your absence be over?

Without predictable rainfall, flowing rivers or enough water to extract from the ground, Afghan communities are unable to sustain themselves in the ways they have for thousands of years. Without rain or water sources, the ground dries up and harvests fail. Parched land also makes flash flooding more likely, as the soil cannot absorb the water or snowmelt quickly enough. Rising temperatures, partnered with decades of conflict and instability, have contributed to this land degradation, as well as deforestation and a limited investment in water storage or protection systems.

Mohamadi’s poem later expresses to the rain, “All day the dahlias cried for you, And I wrote this for their comfort,” highlighting the symbiotic relationship between all living things, as well as an approach to engaging with the environment is rooted in empathy and gratitude. For many Afghans, the primary aim is to restore a harmonious relationship with the earth, especially when engaging in climate action.

What climate initiatives are Afghan communities implementing with Afghanaid’s support?

The future of climate change resilience and adaptation lies in championing indigenous people’s existing knowledge and perspectives of their land, and ensuring they have what they need to enact their goals for environmental transformation.

Tapping into the expertise of these communities is the most effective way to support them in sustainably protecting themselves and their ecosystems as they always have. Whilst Afghanistan may be on the frontlines of the climate crisis, Afghan communities bear no responsibility for their place there. 

Our climate programmes fund life-saving initiatives, first by helping communities to access water and manage its flow by constructing flood protection infrastructure, waterways, irrigation canals, wells and water reservoirs. Then, once water is secured and risk is managed, we support communities to rebuild and protect their livelihoods, such as by supplying farmers with drought-resistant seeds, planting fruit and nut trees to revitalise soil and provide food, and providing vocational training to rural women to reduce their families’ sole dependence on the land. These efforts enable them to support their families and develop sustainable, green livelihoods.

Our role as a community-led organisation is to support these communities in implementing sustainable solutions that enable them to restore and live in harmony with their environment, despite the external forces that impede their ability to live safely and sustainably. Through developing fresh approaches to tackle these unprecedented conditions, we can assist communities to design and advance towards a more optimistic, peaceful, and promising future on their own terms.

You can play a vital role in actioning lasting change across Afghanistan, but you’ll need local expertise to do so.

If everything around seems dark, look again, you may be the light.

–Rumi

With climate change, the sheer scale of the problem can seem overwhelming, but there is light in every situation. In Afghanistan, that light is the strength, knowledge and resilience of local people. Let's all do our part to stand alongside communities facing the worst of this this global crisis by donating to our Be The Light campaign today:

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