Afghan children’s climate emergency as country noticeably absent from …

Children of Afghanistan today proportion their stories of the climate emergency as the country is noticeably absent from the COP26 summit.

The Mirror began working with a group of teenagers in Afghanistan earlier this year as part of our NextGen International project, providing a platform to sound the alarm on the climate crisis.

The project, working with our charity partner Save the Children, was regrettably suspended when the Taliban seized control of Kabul, but the teenagers shared their experiences with us before these events took place.

Despite their young age, many of them had already lived by devastating droughts, floods and natural disasters.

And Afghanistan’s climate emergency is rarely given the attention it deserves, young campaigners say.



Afghan climate scientist Nasratullah Mateen is fundraising to travel to COP26
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Nasratullah Mateen)




“Afghanistan is unprotected more than ever to environmental catastrophes and climate change impacts,” says 24-year-old climate scientist Nasratullah Mateen.

Mr Mateen, who gave the teenagers a climate change lecture in Kabul before the Taliban takeover, is awaiting a visa so he can attend the second week of COP26 to represent Afghanistan.

He said: “already though I am experiencing the worst and darkest days of my life here in Afghanistan, with a future filled with uncertainties and disappointments, I do not want to give up.”

Six of his colleagues, who cannot be named for their own safety, have been rejected from attending the summit to represent the country.

One delegate told the Guardian : “By taking this action the UNFCCC secretariat stifled the voice of millions of Afghan victims of climate change impact. Climate change does not respect borders. They should have not mixed the ecosystem with politics.

“We were hoping to attend Cop26 to raise the voice of millions of Afghan victims of the negative impacts of climate change.”

Nawid Soofizada, another climate scientist who was working with the NextGen project, add: “Afghanistan, as a least developed country is one of the most unprotected countries to the impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is exacerbating the rate of poverty and hunger in the country by increasing the annual droughts, water shortagen and natural disasters in Afghanistan. It’s also affecting the situation of existing traditional agricultural in our country that at last leading to food insecurity and poor livelihood.”

Mr Soofizada managed to flee Afghanistan and is now studying a MSc in Forest and Land Management in Italy.

Although Afghanistan is ranked sixth in the world for its vulnerability to climate change, the Taliban takeover method any action to protect the country from the climate emergency is doubtful, leaving the population unprotected to natural disasters and extreme weather.

Aila*, 17, who lived in rural Parwan Province, said that all the crops on her family’s farm had stopped growing six years ago.

There had been no rain for months and their animals died too.



Internally displaced families shelter in Kabul before the Taliban takeover, August 2021
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HEDAYATULLAH AMID/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)




Her rural village was facing a harsh drought. Without any income from selling produce, Aila and her family struggled to survive.

“We didn’t have anything to eat,” said Aila. “We didn’t already have any water for several days.”

Her family had little choice but to abandon their home and move to the capital, Kabul.

Over 85% of Afghanistan’s population are farmers but climate change is increasingly threatening their livelihoods.

Flooding and droughts, like the one Aila’s family experienced, have plagued Afghanistan over the last twenty years, pushing millions into poverty and starvation.



A displaced family in a makeshift refugee camp in Kabul, August 2021
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In March 2021, Teena*, 14, was woken up at 2 am by the sound of gushing water. Following days of heavy rain, a flood had begun to sweep by her village.

Her family barely had time to flee before it submerged their house. This particular flood killed over 100 people, injured 100 more and destroyed 500 houses.

“When our homes were destroyed, we lost everything,” Teena said.

Afghanistan is inclined to flooding with over 100,000 people affected each year.



Families fled Afghanistan’s northern provinces as the Taliban took over, August 2021
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Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)




This number could more than double by 2050, as climate change increases the likelihood of extreme weather.

“When my village was flooded, my life as I knew it was turned upside down in a matter of minutes,” said Zameer*, 16, from Kapisa province.

“Hundreds of people died that day and over 200 homes were destroyed. I survived, but now I live with the bitter memories of the relatives that I lost that day.”

Communities like Teena and Zameer’s are ill-equipped to deal with the frequent natural disasters they confront.

Decades of conflict has deprived Afghans of the opportunity and resources to develop the infrastructure they need to protect themselves, such as flood defences and early warning systems.

Before the Taliban takeover, members of Afghanistan’s government were expected to ask for financial help at this year’s COP26 summit to adapt to and limit climate change.

Now, that opportunity is lost.



Taliban fighters present for a picture in front of a bakery




With no shields against the impact of climate change, people have been pushed to abandoning their rural homes in search of security.

At the end of 2020, 1,117,000 people were internally displaced across Afghanistan due to natural disasters.

Like Aila, Teena and her family were forced to leave their village and migrate to Kabul.

“There are lots of problems here,” Teena said. “We confront poverty and misery.”

Omid*, 16, also moved to Kabul six years ago, when his family had no choice but to abandon their farm due to drought.



Taliban fighters on the streets of Kabul as Afghanistan fell
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AFP via Getty Images)




“When we first came to Kabul, my father couldn’t find a job,” said Omid “so I was also going out everyday with my father to look for some work to satisfy our family.”

The cost of living in Kabul is higher than other areas of Afghanistan, and the arrival of internal migrants has meant there are not enough jobs to go round.

Many people are forced to live in slums, where, says Aila, “we are in miserable conditions and we are struggling.”

“It has been very difficult to adjust to life in Kabul,” said Omid. “I miss my village so much.”

Now, children like Omid, Zameer, Aila and Teena are grappling with both climate change and intensifying conflict.

In July and August, over 17,000 people flocked to Kabul to escape the Taliban, before the insurgent group took over the city on August 15.



Afghan women protest to need that the Taliban allow the reopening of girls schools
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STRINGER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)




For the first time, people living in Afghanistan’s cities are facing the same levels of food insecurity as those in rural areas and it has been declared “among the worst” humanitarian crises.

And 3.2 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from malnutrition by the end of the year.

“I call on the international community to pay attention to families like mine,” said Zameer. “We should determine our people’s destiny with pens, not with tanks and guns.”

Almost 14 million children in Afghanistan are expected to confront crisis levels of food insecurity this winter, according to research by Save the Children.

Athena Rayburn, Director of Advocacy and Communications for Save the Children Afghanistan, said: “Now is the time for the world to stand with Afghan children.

“Unfortunately, we know that the harrowing experiences described here by children supported by Save the Children Afghanistan will only continue to become more frequent and strengthen unless decisive action is taken now.

“Save the Children is working across Afghanistan to sustain children and their communities to be able to resist the shocks of climate change, such as the current drought.”

She additional: “We sustain families by cash and food assistance, and do longer-term work with communities to permit them to diversify their income flows to more climate-resilient and adaptive agricultural crops.

“We also work to provide vocational training in a skill or profession that would allow them to earn an income and buy food for their families already if crops failed.

“The international community must step up to provide funds for Afghanistan, and make meaningful global commitments to reduce unhealthy emissions that contribute to devastating natural disasters such as the drought in Afghanistan, a drought that today will force thousands of children across the country to go to bed hungry.”

The UNFCC did not respond when contacted for comment.

*Names have been changed for safeguarding purposes

You can help by donating to Save the Children’s emergency fund: www.savethechildren.org.uk/mirrorclimatecrisis


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