When Qudratullah lost his family’s farm in northern Afghanistan earlier this year, it was not because of war.
It was due to a severe drought — one of the extreme weather conditions in Afghanistan that is blamed on global climate change.
The displaced 58-year-old once supported an extended family of 18 with the crops and cattle he raised on his land in the village of Beto in the Darzab district of Jowzjan Province.
Unemployed, he is now desperately seeking work in the provincial capital of Sheberghan.
“Due to the drought, we had to leave our farm,” Qudratullah tells RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “We had no other income. Our field became barren and the crops we had planted were destroyed. We had no water and nothing to eat.”
“There is nothing left of my cattle,” he says. “I had to sell them off. Even if we had one or two left, the situation is so bad that we couldn’t have kept them.”
Qudratullah is not alone.
The former farmer says many people in the area have moved to the district center.
“Hunger and thirst have forced people to leave their homes,” he says. “Children are starving. People have nothing to eat.”
Underscoring the acute climate conditions in Afghanistan, heavy floods have sometimes struck the same areas that are now grappling with severe drought.
Just a few years ago, torrential rains in Qudratullah’s district flooded the homes of many of his neighbors.
There was no infrastructure to hold the floodwaters back or to capture it in a reservoir for later use.
The district of Darzab has been under Taliban control for years and the militant group has done little to help locals deal with the extreme weather conditions since seizing power in Afghanistan in August, Qudratullah says.
Life for his family has now become one of constant upheaval, he says.
“Only a person who is displaced knows what displacement means,” he says. “It is very difficult. I have only God to rely upon. We have no one to help us.”
Millions At Risk
Climatologists predict that life for many of Afghanistan’s 38 million people is likely to resemble Qudratullah’s in the coming years due to changing weather patterns they link to global warming.
Average temperatures in Afghanistan rose 1.8 degrees Celsius from 1950 to 2010, about twice the global average.
Rainfall in Afghanistan has varied for decades, with most of the country being dry and hot for much of the year. But climate experts say rainfall patterns increasingly appear to be shifting there.
They expect worsening droughts to wreak havoc on the 85 percent of Afghans who rely on agriculture to survive.
Climatologists have measured 40 percent less annual rainfall in vital farming regions in Afghanistan.
They warn that global climate change also means there will be brief spells of heavier rains in some parts of the country during the spring when the soil is less able to absorb it.
That is leading to more flash floods that destroy homes and even entire villages.
Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, war, and an economic crisis that has struck Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, severe weather has contributed to pushing millions of Afghans to the brink of starvation.
Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, warned in early November that an estimated 23 million Afghans are already in crisis or will experience “emergency levels of food insecurity between November 2021 and March 2022.”
‘Sell off Our Organs’
Among them is Mohammad, a 25-year-old farmer in the western province of Farah.
“Drought has greatly affected my wheat crop and livestock,” he tells Radio Azadi. “My wheat harvest greatly decreased this year compared to the past. [My cattle] have nothing to eat. So, we have had to sell livestock at a low price.”
“This drought is worse than previous years,” Mohammad adds. “Our annual rainfall is decreasing. Many people have dug wells that are hundreds of meters deep. But the well-water table is going down now, day by day.”
Radio Azadi has documented several cases in which impoverished residents of western Afghanistan have sold one of their kidneys as an organ transplant to help their family survive.
“Thank God, it hasn’t affected us to the extent that we’ve had to sell off our organs, like our kidneys, as others have had to do,” Mohammad says.
Silenced Afghan Delegation
Before the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) had planned to send six delegates to COP26, the recent UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
The team intended to ask for more financial assistance to improve water management and help Afghan farmers deal with drought.
But the entire Afghan delegation — five men and one woman — fled to neighboring countries when the Taliban stormed Kabul on August 15.
The delegates were informed just days before the start of COP26 that their applications to represent Afghanistan had been rejected, leaving the country unrepresented at the global summit.
Ahmad Samim Hoshmand, NEPA’s chief ozone specialist who headed the previous Afghan government’s delegation at the UN’s 2019 Climate Change Conference in Madrid, had been slated to lead the Afghan team in Glasgow.
Instead, Hoshmand could only argue Afghanistan’s case through media interviews that he gave from Tajikistan, where he fled for his safety.
Hoshmand says Afghanistan is “among the most vulnerable countries in the world” to climate change, citing its geography, sensitivity to changing weather patterns, and an infrastructure that is unable to cope with global warming.
“I’m 100 percent sure that when you add conflict to those criteria, Afghanistan is the most vulnerable country,” Hoshmand told the U.S.-based online news outlet Vox.
“Various data shows that the country is facing food insecurity, water scarcity, drought, and flash floods,” he says. “All these issues are connected to climate change, and in recent years, we have witnessed the situation get even worse.”
Hoshmand says there are also indirect impacts of climate change on Afghan society.
“Violence, conflict, human rights abuses, and underage marriage are linked with climate change,” he says. “When farmers lose their livelihoods, they will do whatever they can to survive.”
On a broader scale, the charity Christian Aid estimates that heavy losses and humanitarian disasters caused by climate change could amount to 20 percent of GDP for some of the world’s poorer countries by 2050.
But the Glasgow climate pact agreed at COP26 on November 13 did not address the concerns of Afghanistan or other poor countries over the damage caused by climate change.
Twelve donor governments, including the United States, pledged $413 million in climate financing under the UN’s Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF).
But delegates at COP26 rejected the creation of financial mechanisms based on the idea of “compensation” to cover the costs of climate change damages.
Hoshmand said that at the very least, there should have been space for Afghanistan at COP26 rather than “an empty chair,” arguing the country desperately needs financial support to cope with climate change shocks.