by Daud Saba / Mardom Nama-e Bakhter / August 1997 issue
To date, no specific environmental study has been carried out in Afghanistan.
The lack of information on the quality of air, water, vegetation, land,
and other environmental factors could be attributed to the non-existence
of organizations or agencies devoted to this issue. Studies revealed that
until at least 2000 B.C.E, the land of Afghanistan was covered with cedar-rich
forests, and had a different pattern of climatic and life support system
than that of today.
The ecosystem in Afghanistan had never been damaged to the extent that
it has been in the last two decades. This deterioration has been created
by the unlimited use of nature and its energy. Albeit, this environmental
degradation was enhanced by war.
Two thirds of the landscape of Afghanistan is occupied by mountainous
terrains with little or no vegetation, typical of an arid country. For
this reason, the vegetation in these terrains play a vital role in the
ecosystem. For example, if we consider the role of pistachio (Pistacia
vera, yielding) among hundreds of other floras, we find out that it not
only provides climatic and environmental stabilization over the areas of
its growth, but eases the life of thousands of families by providing them
with a natural source of income.
Half of the remaining parts of the country's landscape are deserts,
which are hostile environments. The rest are farmlands and pastures. At
present, only six percent of the fifteen percent of agricultural land in
Afghanistan is under cultivation. In the past twenty years, the agricultural
areas have been drastically decreased. It is estimated that we lost thirty
percent of our farmlands and pastures, either by abandonment or degradation.
The farmlands in the province of Kabul have been lost due to degradation
resulting from the expansion of the urban institutions. This led to a drastic
change of the previously dominant climatic and environmental factors in
Compared to that of 1979, our agricultural farm products have decreased
fifty percent. To compensate for this loss, rural people started to utilize
the free natural resources of their environment. The end result of this
process was a disaster for our few natural forests, which were cut and
smuggled to Pakistan. Deforestation, floods and avalanches added to the
devastation. Once the forest's productivity was declined or monopolized
by certain warlords, the poor farmers sought another cheap and accessible
alternative, which was the cultivation of opium. This was encouraged by
Afghan warlords, and the growing international drug market. Hence, this
resulted in further degradation of Afghanistan's environment.
Many forested areas and farmlands were burned and degraded by the use
of heavy war technology and chemicals. It is estimated that ten thousand
villages, and their surrounding environments were destroyed. This continuous
process still takes its toll on our environment.
However, the legacy of land mines in Afghanistan is the worst environmental
nightmare that has been created as a result of constant war. The presence
of more than ten million land mines in the country, makes it the world's
most deadly mine field. The daily death toll due to these devices is about
20 to 30 people, mostly children and civilians.
Even though Afghanistan itself doesn't have any industry to create air
pollutants, smog is a common phenomenon in most of the urban areas. Trans-boundary
air pollution is another concern. Due to this, we receive enormous amounts
of pollutants originating from the Aral sedimentary basin, Iran, Turkmenistan,
and Uzbekistan's industrial parks. How much of the pesticides originating
from these countries and worldwide end up on our lands and environment
through air currents and rains, is another mystery that is adding to our
environmental crises. Chemical weapons have been used during the Afghan
war with the Soviets, and this caused severe short-term damage to our environment
and ecosystem. No data exists on their long-term effects.
It could be concluded that at present, the environment in Afghanistan
is in a deep crises. The problems not only affect the people of Afghanistan
and their ecosystem, but the whole world. Once any of the environmental
components are lost, recovery is almost impossible, e.g., the capture of
a pair of Caspian Tigers (Panthera Tigris Virgata), roaming in the mountains
of eastern Afghanistan in April 1997, may have put an end to the survival
of this highly endangered and almost extinct species.
The people of Afghanistan are in desperate need of help to repair their
natural habitat and ecosystem. The international community is responsible
for lending Afghans a hand in order to help revive this wounded piece of
our common home, earth.