Afghanistan faces severe climate crisis amid ongoing economic, social challenges, reports OCHA

Photo: OCHA

Afghanistan is grappling with a severe climate crisis, marked by its third consecutive year of drought-like conditions, reported the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) on Monday. This follows the worst year-round drought in 30 years experienced during 2021/2022, OCHA says.

OCHA noted that rising temperatures are altering precipitation patterns, reducing access to water. Drought-related shocks increased in 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, with significant rises in Parwan, Kunar, Baghlan, Samangan, and Baghlan. While anticipated El Niño conditions in late 2023 and early 2024 may offer drought relief, they also pose risks of flooding and crop pests.

The country continues to deal with the aftermath of four decades of conflict, entrenched poverty, and barriers to women’s equality. The economic downturn following the political transition in August 2021 has worsened these issues. The reduction in hostilities has not alleviated the high levels of displacement, mine contamination, and increased risks of gender-based violence, child labor, and mental health challenges.

Nearly 1.9 million Afghans have returned in 2023, including over 471,000 from Pakistan since mid-September. This influx strains resources and demands increased humanitarian assistance, OCHA said.

Climate change has led to a widespread water crisis, affecting food, health, and nutrition needs. Additionally, Afghanistan’s position on numerous fault lines makes it prone to earthquakes, with around 400 occurring in the past year, including three magnitude 6.3 shocks in Herat Province.

OCHA said that education remains a critical concern, with 1.4 million girls excluded from secondary school and overall low literacy rates. In 2024, an estimated 23.7 million people – over half of Afghanistan’s population – will require humanitarian assistance.

According to OCHA, the fragile Afghan economy, heavily reliant on aid and remittances, faces further challenges from the exclusion of women from economic activities and restrictive policies that hinder women’s access to assistance and services. Bureaucratic hurdles and efforts to influence humanitarian programming have led to delays in project registration and implementation.

The recent policy changes in Pakistan have triggered the return of hundreds of thousands of undocumented Afghans and refugees, exacerbating the displacement crisis, OCHA said, adding that protracted displacement and high return rates highlight the need for durable solutions, including support for voluntary return, local integration, or resettlement.

The UN has identified Afghanistan as one of the most at-risk countries for natural disasters, with these events significantly impacting the nation’s agriculture sector, which contributes 25% to its GDP. The report also highlights the lack of access to drinking water in three Afghan provinces due to climate change.