A New Breed of Disaster: Warfare and 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 critical to its legitimacy with Afghan citizens and will likely also be one of the most important issues in the Taliban’s relations with its neighbors.

Already on the Afghan battlefield, as on many battlefields throughout history, water was an important currency. In their bid for Herat, a strategically important city in the west, the Taliban repeatedly attacked a dam that is vital for the people in the region for drinking water, agriculture and electricity. In Kandahar province in the south, too, one of the Taliban’s most important victories was the seizure of control of a dam that contains drinking water and irrigation water.

Climate change will also make it difficult for the Taliban to keep an important promise: the abolition of opium poppy cultivation. Poppies require far less water than wheat or melons, for example, and are far more profitable. Poppy cultivation employs an estimated 120,000 Afghans and brings in an estimated $ 300-400 million a year, according to the United Nations, and has in turn enriched the Taliban.

The poppy acreage grew strongly in 2020.

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

“It’s going to be a gigantic political hotspot,” says Vanda Felbab-Brown, who studies the region at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The most recent drought in 2018 left four million Afghans dependent on food aid and forced 371,000 people to leave their homes, many of whom never returned.

“The effects of the severe drought are exacerbated by conflicts and the Covid-19 pandemic in a context in which half the population already needed help,” said the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, Ramiz Alakbarov, via email on Thursday Kabul. “With little financial reserves, people are forced to resort to child labor, child marriage, risky irregular migration that exposes them to human trafficking, and other protective risks. Many take on catastrophic debts and sell their assets. “