Afghan children's climate emergency as country noticeably absent from COP26

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

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

The project, which works with our charity partner Save the Children, unfortunately stopped when the Taliban took control of Kabul, but the teenagers shared their experiences with us before these events took place.

Many of them, despite their young age, had already experienced devastating droughts, floods and natural disasters.

And the climate emergency in Afghanistan is rarely given due attention, say young activists.

The Afghan climate scientist Nasratullah Mateen is collecting donations for a trip to COP26
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Nasratullah Mateen)

“Afghanistan is more vulnerable than ever to environmental disasters and the effects of climate change,” says 24-year-old climate scientist Nasratullah Mateen.

Mr Mateen, who gave a lecture on climate change to teenagers in Kabul before the Taliban takeover, is waiting for a visa to attend the second week of COP26 to represent Afghanistan.

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

Six of his colleagues, who cannot be named for their own safety, were excluded from attending the summit as representatives of the country.

A delegate said that Guardian : “With this action the UNFCCC Secretariat stifled the voice of millions of Afghan victims of the effects of climate change. Climate change does not respect borders. You shouldn’t have mixed the environment with politics.

“We were hoping to take part in Cop26 to raise the voice of millions of Afghan victims of the negative effects of climate change.”

Nawid Soofizada, another climate scientist who worked on the NextGen project, added: “As a least developed country, Afghanistan is one of the most affected by the effects of climate change.

“Climate change exacerbates the poverty and hunger rates in the country by exacerbating the annual droughts, water shortages and natural disasters in Afghanistan. It also affects the situation of the existing traditional agriculture in our country, which ultimately leads to food insecurity and poor livelihoods. ” . “

Mr Soofizada escaped from Afghanistan and is now studying an MSc in forest and land management in Italy.

Although Afghanistan ranks sixth in the world due to its vulnerability to climate change, the Taliban’s takeover means action to protect the country from the climate emergency is unlikely, leaving the population vulnerable to natural disasters and extreme weather conditions.

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

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

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

Your rural village has faced a severe drought. Without any income from the sale of products, Aila and her family struggled to survive.

“We didn’t have anything to eat,” said Aila. “We had no water for several days.”

Her family had no choice but to give up their home and move to the capital, Kabul.

Over 85% of the Afghan population are farmers, but climate change is increasingly threatening their livelihoods.

Floods and droughts such as those experienced by Aila’s family have ravaged Afghanistan over the past twenty years, pushing millions into poverty and hunger.

A displaced family in a makeshift refugee camp in Kabul, August 2021
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Getty Images)

In March 2021, Teena *, 14, was woken up at 2 a.m. by the sound of the water. After days of heavy rain, a flood had started to sweep over their village.

Her family barely had time to flee when her house was flooded. This particular flood killed over 100 people, injured another 100 and destroyed 500 homes.

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

Afghanistan is prone to flooding, affecting more than 100,000 people each year.

After the Taliban came to power in August 2021, families fled the northern provinces of Afghanistan
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Agency Anadolu via Getty Images)

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

“When my village was flooded, my life as I knew it was turned upside down within minutes,” said Zameer *, 16, from Kapisa Province.

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

Communities like Teena and Zameer are ill-equipped to deal with frequent natural disasters.

Decades of conflict have robbed Afghans of the ability and resources to develop the infrastructure they need to protect themselves, such as flood protection and early warning systems.

Before the Taliban came to power, members of the Afghan government were expected to seek financial help to adapt and limit climate change at this year’s COP26 summit.

Now this chance is wasted.

Taliban fighters pose for a photo in front of a bakery

Without shields against the effects of climate change, people have been driven to leave their rural homes in search of safety.

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

Like Aila, Teena and her family had to leave their village and emigrate to Kabul.

“There are a lot of problems here,” said Teena. “We are faced with poverty and misery.”

Omid *, 16, also moved to Kabul six years ago when his family had to leave their farm due to the drought.

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

“When we first came to Kabul, my father couldn’t find a job,” says Omid, “so I went out with my father every day to look for work, to support our family.”

The cost of living in Kabul is higher than in other areas of Afghanistan and the influx of internal migrants has resulted in insufficient jobs.

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

“It was very difficult to get used to life in Kabul,” said Omid. “I miss my village so much.”

Now children like Omid, Zameer, Aila and Teena are struggling with both climate change and worsening conflicts.

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

Afghan women protest and demand that the Taliban allow girls’ schools to reopen
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STRINGER / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock)

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

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

“I urge the international community to pay attention to families like me,” said Zameer. “We should determine the fate of our people with pens, not with tanks and guns.”

According to a study by Save the Children, nearly 14 million children in Afghanistan will face food insecurity this winter.

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

“Unfortunately we know that the shocking experiences of the children supported by Save the Children Afghanistan as described here will only become more frequent and intense if no decision is made now.

“Save the Children works across Afghanistan to help children and their communities withstand the shocks of climate change such as the prolonged drought.”

She added: “We support families through monetary and food aid and we are working with communities on a longer-term basis to enable them to diversify their income streams to more climate-resilient and adaptable agricultural crops.

“We are also working to provide vocational training in a skill or occupation that will enable them to earn an income and buy groceries for their families even if the crops fail.

“The international community needs to step up funding for Afghanistan and make significant global commitments to reduce the harmful 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 asked to comment.

* Names have been changed for security reasons

You can help by donating to the Save the Children Emergency Fund: www.savethechildren.org.uk/mirrorclimatecrisis

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