The mountains in Shah Foladi, in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province, feed both the Kabul basin and the Helmand river. Photo: Sune Engel Rasmussen / The Guardian

By Sune Engel Rasmussen
28 August 2017

SHAH FOLADI, Afghanistan (The Guardian) – The central highlands of Afghanistan are a world away from the congested chaos of the country’s cities. Hills roll across colossal, uninhabited spaces fringed by snow-flecked mountains, set against blistering blue skies.

In this spectacular, harsh landscape, one can pinpoint more or less where human settlement becomes impossible: at an altitude of 3,000 metres (9,840ft).

This is where Aziza’s family lives, in the village of Borghason. In a good year, they just about survive by cultivating wheat and potatoes for food and a small income. However, when the rains fail, as they increasingly do, the family is plunged into debt, unable to reimburse merchants for that year’s seeds. “Last year, we had to borrow money from the bazaar,” Aziza says.

Things are about to get tougher. The precariousness of life in Bamiyan, one of Afghanistan’s poorest provinces, leaves villages like Borghason at the mercy of climate change.

On a recent visit, The Guardian trekked from freshwater lakes surrounded by jagged massifs at 4,500 metres down to villages at the receiving end of erratic weather, a common result of global warming. Warmer temperatures melt the mountain snow earlier, resulting in an increased flow of water before farmers need it.

These are irregularities that farmers living at the margins of economic sustainability cannot afford. “People are surviving,” says Andrew Scanlon, country director for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “[But] their ability to bounce back is almost zilch.”

Farmers say unanimously that temperatures have risen over the past decades. Rain is scarcer and more unpredictable. “People know about climate change even if they don’t call it that,” says Fatima Akbari, the UNEP’s country assistant. “They know all about change in water and weather.” [more]

How climate change is a 'death sentence' in Afghanistan's highlands

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