A new kind of crisis: war and global warming collide in Afghanistan

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A new kind of crisis: war and global warming collide in Afghanistan


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But climate change is also a threat multiplier for the Taliban. Analysts say water management will be essential to its legitimacy with Afghan citizens, and that it will also likely be one of the most important issues in the Taliban’s dealings with their neighbors.

Already on the Afghan battlefield, as on many battlefields throughout history, water has been an important currency. The Taliban, in their bid for Herat, a strategic western town, has repeatedly attacked a critical dam for drinking water, agriculture and electricity for people in the region. Likewise, in southern Kandahar province, one of the Taliban’s most critical victories was to gain control of a dam that holds back drinking water and irrigation.

Climate change also threatens to complicate the Taliban’s ability to deliver on a key promise: the elimination of opium poppy cultivation. Poppies require much less water than, say, wheat or melons, and they are much more profitable. Poppy cultivation employs around 120,000 Afghans and brings in around $ 300-400 million a year, according to the United Nations, and has in turn enriched the Taliban.

The poppy cultivated areas increased sharply in 2020.

Analysts said the Taliban would seek to use a poppy ban to gain legitimacy from foreign powers, such as Qatar and China. But it is likely to be pushed back by growers who have few alternatives as the rains become less reliable.

“It will be a huge political flashpoint,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, who studies the region at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The latest drought in 2018 left four million Afghans in need of food assistance and forced 371,000 people from their homes, many of whom have not returned.

“The effects of the severe drought are worsened by the conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic in a context where half of the population was already in need of assistance,” said United Nations humanitarian coordinator Ramiz Alakbarov on Thursday, by email from Kabul. “With few financial reserves, people are forced to resort to child labor, child marriage, unsafe irregular migration exposing them to trafficking and other protection risks. Many incur catastrophic debts and sell their assets. “

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