Deforestation in Afghanistan Multiplies Climate and Security Threats

Nuristan, Afghanistan. Image: seair21/Flickr

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

As Stefanie Glinski reported for the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week, large-scale deforestation in Afghanistan, due primarily to the past 40 years of war, has advanced flooding in the country (as trees prevent soil erosion and serve as a buffer against flooding). According to Glinski, “Trees have long been casualties of extreme poverty and war in Afghanistan, with many people in remote areas having little choice but to cut down forests to build houses, fuel stoves and keep warm in winter.” It’s estimated that over the past three decades, Afghanistan has lost 40% of its trees

Why This Matters: This deforestation-induced flooding has grave consequences on the population. As Glinski noted, this deforestation is “prompting many in rural areas to move to the capital Kabul or leave the country.” And, as Al Jazeera reported last month, flooding in the northern and eastern parts of the country caused the deaths of “at least 100 people.” This mix of deforestation and climate change-induced deluges inundating parts of Asia will continue to claim needless lives. These impacts must be mitigated, in part through reforestation efforts. 

A History of Deforestation:
As Rejendra Aryal, country representative to the UN FAO, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “Nearly 70% of the original forest cover has been lost since the 1950s.” According to Aryal, the most recent count of forest cover was taken in 2010, and more trees have definitely been cut down since then.

This is a gargantuan problem. As Glinski reported, “Environmentalists say forests prevent soil erosion and act as a buffer against flooding, while barren land is less able to hold the water from heavy rains and snowmelt, resulting in flash floods.” These flash floods, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration reported for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “nearly 1.2 million people in Afghanistan have been forced from their homes by natural disasters such as floods and droughts since 2012.”

A Push For Reforestation: One critical way to help mitigate the impacts of these flash-floods is reforestation, or the act of replanting a given area with trees. Despite “challenging environmental conditions and ongoing insecurity” which has so far “hampered large-scale reforestation efforts,” there have been a recent stream of projects to help reforest the country. In particular, the Afghani government recently declared its intention to plant 13 million saplings as part of a larger water supply project. 

Other adjacent countries, such as Pakistan, are also engaging in tree-planting pushes in order to “bring back life to forest land that had been destroyed by illegal logging, water scarcity, and fires.” 

Protecting Afghanistan’s Forests: While reforestation is crucial in helping fight climate change as well as climate-related disasters such as flooding, it’s critical to protect the nation’s forests so that these efforts aren’t made in vain. 

Many homes in Afghanistan lack insulation and modern heating systems thus forests are felled as a source of heating and energy for households. And while commercial timber harvesting is illegal in Afghanistan, deforestation is driven by a wood smuggling industry that’s largely sold to neighboring Pakistan. Decades of war and drought have made deforestation profitable in Afghanistan, in fact, it’s now generating a growing income for Islamic State militants.

As the Institute for War and Peace Reporting explained

“Local authorities are aware of the problem but say that a lack of government control in the districts in question means it is hard for them to take any action. They say appeals to central government for assistance have gone unanswered, meaning vast quantities of valuable timber continues to be smuggled out of the country.”

This is something that needs to be on the radar of the international community as we know the loss of nature is a threat multiplier and climate disasters are known drivers of human conflict. 


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