Climate change must become part of the global agenda on Afghanistan

From: Chatham House
Published: Fri Mar 18 2022


Action on climate change could be a way to move beyond humanitarian aid and start building the food and water security Afghanistan so desperately needs.

As the Taliban took Kabul last August and completed their spectacular return to power, international media attention drove a frenzy of global interest in Afghanistan. While Afghanistan is no longer headline news, the country is facing a perfect storm of worsening humanitarian, economic, health and governance crises. The United Nations projects that at least 24 million Afghans, more than half the population, will need humanitarian assistance in 2022. With almost 9 million people on the edge of starvation, Afghanistan is fast becoming the most food insecure country in the world.

Meanwhile, the Taliban's Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan is at an impasse with the international donor community. Unwilling to reward the Taliban with normal relations, Western nations and donors have been debating how to tackle the humanitarian crisis without giving the new regime a financial and political lifeline. On 11 February, the Biden administration announced it would release $7 billion of frozen Afghan government funds. However, only half of this money will be made accessible to Afghanistan's central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), while other half will be held in the US until litigation by families of 9/11 victims is resolved and it is determined whether they can access these funds. This is despite the fact that no Afghans were among the 9/11 hijackers and that this money also includes peope's personal savings.

International sanctions and the crippling banking and financial crises are hurting ordinary Afghans far more than the Taliban, particularly the Taliban elite. Instead, the Taliban's biggest challenge is transforming from insurgent group to government. In January 2021, the Afghan parliament passed a government spending budget of $6 billion, 75 per cent of which was to be provided by donors. For the Taliban to match that, they need as much as $500 million per month. Although the newly reinstated Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is imposing itself on the structures and blueprint of the former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it lacks both significant amounts of money and much-needed human capital.

The multiple crises facing Afghanistan are exacerbated by the deepening challenges of climate change. According to Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency, temperatures rose by 1.8C between 1950 and 2010, twice the global average.

Afghanistan is among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world due to its geography, sensitivity to changing weather patterns, and an infrastructure unable to cope with global warming. It is suffering its second drought in four years, along with an economic meltdown that is compounding the humanitarian situation. These near-term climate impacts, if left unaddressed, will only worsen the ongoing socioeconomic catastrophe, conflict and violence.

So far, the focus of the international community has been on the status of the new regime and the Taliban's failure to ensure inclusivity and human rights, particularly the rights of women and girls.

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Company: Chatham House

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