War, nature or inefficiency, which one is more fatal?
On 2nd May 2014, Afghan people mourned for their more than 2500 countrymen including men, women and children who were buried deeply under thousand tons of mud and soil in Argo district of Badakhshan province, as a result of a massive landslide. While another about 3000 affected people who are under severe life threat due to lack of shelter, water, food and medicine. But the government and responsible authorities have been doing almost nothing to start their search and rescue action for those who may have a chance to be pulled out alive from deep under debris. This incident happened after the recent earthquake in Takhar and harsh floods in Jawzjan provinces. However, this has toppled the miseries of those people who have been suffering from never ending war and six years of prolonged drought, affecting over 6 million Afghans across the country.
Afghanistan people have been victims of natural disaster for decades now. Beside the earthquakes, floods and landslides, other common hazards include agricultural pests, such as caterpillars and locusts, and dust and sandstorms. IFRC/RC estimates that natural disasters have killed more than 19,000 people and affected about 7.5 million Afghans since the early 1980s. Hence, the current estimates show that about 100 people die every day due to natural disasters in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s natural landscape has been destroyed due to the centuries of inefficient governance and war. These mainly two reasons have caused the environmental degradation also. The land erosion due to nonexistence of wood and plants are the main reasons for harsh floods, storms and landslides. During the 20th century when the world governments with the help of their people were taking important steps to tackle environmental changes and natural disasters all around the world, the inefficient despotic and tribalist governments of Afghanistan were doing nothing to walk by the world. They have been very idle in providing any help to save their people who have been suffering from natural disasters for decades.
Nevertheless, history suggests that this has not been the case with the country’s environment always. Hence we can claim that the natural environment of this geography has been systematically destroyed due to bad governance and civil conflicts. “…when looking at Afghanistan’s often arid and barren landscapes, that many of them were once covered by woodland and were home to rich flora and fauna. Emperor Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty who captured Kabul in 1504 and had a keen eye for natural beauty, records in his memoirs the rich biodiversity of Afghanistan, home to animals such as cheetahs, tigers and wild asses. Until the middle of the 20th century Afghanistan had much more extensive forest and plant cover than today. This included high-alpine flora, montane coniferous and mixed forests, and open dry woodlands with juniper, pistachio and almond trees, semi-desert scrub and marshlands. Today most of the country’s forest cover has already disappeared or soon will.”
Hence, the destructions to the environment in this world’s poorest country tell us that: among the various factors we can name uncontrolled overgrazing and unsustainable agricultural practices, due to the lack of proper agricultural and animal husbandry policies of the government; combined with lack of any coordination between these policies and environmental priorities of different localities.
Lack of fuel and other required materials for local communities to substitute firewood and other traditional local materials, including cow’s dung (that causes severe diseases), all are leading to massive logging for kitchen use, construction and heating during winter. At the same time, the government has shown no alternatives to help people using other means for cooking, building and heating across the country. The electricity doesn’t exist in most of these communities, gas, oil and other means are too expensive and scarce. Hence the only initiative remaining for the people is intensified timber cutting. The business of wood smugglers who mostly cut the forests and smuggle them to neighboring countries is also on the rise.
More interestingly, this deforestation and cutting woods have had a military purpose also. “Trees have been cut not only for fuel but also to make it harder for competing armies and rebel bands to hide and ambush one another.”Now who can ask the military policy makers in the country to have an eye on environment? And work with people to stop deforestation and bush burning. Instead who to ask to provide people with proper support for defending their communities from insurgent groups who are strengthened due to political reasons in these areas.
For sure, the natural disasters such as earthquakes, recent floods and landslides, due to the environmental degradation can be dangerously fatal. But who bothers?!
The inefficient and corrupt government authorities in Afghanistan including the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), National Disaster Management Authorities (ANDMA) and Ministry of Agriculture and Animal husbandry, who cannot even control the rain water from their office door steps (rain water turns into flood in Kabul city every year); They have only been able to watch people dying under the natural mass grave in Badakhshan. They understand that the population is increasing; cities have no capacity to inhabit thousands of people who come daily in search of employment and work. Un-planned urbanization and lack of housing policy caused illegal land grabbing and pushed poor people to build houses in hazardous natural locations including the mud hills and rough mountains. These ministry officials know everything and recognize that these situations make people further vulnerable to earthquake, avalanches, flood, landslide and other disasters. But on real action, these governmental bodies are far behind to meet with these social and environmental challenges to save thousands of lives every year.
The inefficient ANDMA have not been doing anything so far to support people by early warning mechanisms. As hundreds of people lost their lives in recent floods in northern provinces, ANDMA could simply prevent these losses. According to Engineer Sediq Qiam, a well-known geologist, flood is predictable (in Afghanistan). For example, the rainfalls are mostly coming from the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and North Pole. We can predict them through the weather forecast and communication with the neighboring countries to decrease the level of casualties to the minimum or even to zero percent… The aim of constructing dams and creeks on flood prone areas are to increase the agricultural productivity and extend graze lands and forests. However, due to unknown reasons, the so-called “authorities” in three mentioned governmental ministries would not do anything such as the research, early warning, and prevention to help the 100 per day casualties of the poor people in Afghanistan. They are only busy to think and work for their personal benefits. Besides, when the funds come for such programmes they are the only responsible people for misuse and even theft of money. Or according to Aarozi Samarqandi a famous Persian scientist instead of finding real scientific means to help people during these natural disasters these so-called authorities, propagate only clerical, fortune telling, dream interpretation and ferry tells.
On the other hand, local poor inhabitants, young civil society activists, journalists and people from all walks of life have started to do something since they have heard about the incident. They have collected money, clothes, medicine, jewelry, wood, food items etc and reached to the scene to help with the affected people. They didn’t wait for the “authorities” because they knew that these inefficient people would do nothing to help them, as they hardly have any such desire and compassion. In most of the provinces, youth have raised tents to generate financial support to help people in Badakhhshan. But Hamid Karzai, head of the corrupt state in Kabul have not even gone to the area till now. He has no interest to know what exactly is happening, while his deputies just went to show up and returned with only some “nice words”! Nobody has asked to continue the search and rescue attempts for hundreds of children, women and men (may still be alive) under the debris. And maybe that is the only activity which seems to be difficult for the local people and civil society youth groups to accomplish, due to lack of required machinery and professional personal.
 Afghanistan on the brink of natural disaster, by Francis Caas, Yoko Hagiwara and David Jensen, http://www.grida.no/publications/et/ep3/page/2611.aspx
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