Pope Francis: Wasting food shows a lack of concern for others

PopePope Francis in St. Peter’s Square April 17, 2019. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

 In a meeting with members of the Federation of European Food Banks Saturday, Pope Francis warned against food waste, which he said shows a lack of concern for others.

“Fighting against the terrible scourge of hunger means also fighting waste. Waste reveals an indifference towards things and towards those who go without. Wastefulness is the crudest form of discarding,” he said.

“To throw food away means to throw people away,” the pope added. “It is scandalous today not to notice how precious food is as a good, and how so much good ends up so badly.”

Francis noted that in today’s complex world, it is also important that the good done by charitable organizations is “done well,” and is not “the fruit of improvisation.”

Doing good “requires intelligence, the capacity for planning and continuity. It needs an integrated vision, of persons who stand together: it is difficult to do good while not caring for each other,” he said.

Even good initiatives guided by good intentions can get trapped by “extended bureaucracy, excessive administrative costs, or become forms of welfare that do not lead to authentic development,” he noted. “Wasting what is good is a nasty habit that can insinuate itself anywhere, even in charitable works.”

The pope also emphasized the importance of actions over words: “It is always easy to speak about others; it is much harder to give to others, and yet this is what matters.”

Food banks, he said, are good at taking what is “thrown into the vicious cycle of waste” and inserting it into a “virtuous circle” of good use instead.

“It is good to see languages, beliefs, traditions and different approaches converging, not for self-interest, but rather to give dignity to others,” he said.

Noting the modern world’s connectivity and rapid pace, he decried the “frenetic scramble for money” which leaves people with an increasing interior frailty, disorientation, and loss of meaning. He added: “What I care about is an economy that is more humane, that has a soul, and not a reckless machine that crushes human beings.”

“We must find a cure,” he urged, by “supporting what is good and taking up paths of solidarity, being constructive.”

“We must come together to relaunch what is good, knowing full well that, even if evil is at large in the world, with God’s help and the good will of so many like yourselves, the world can be a better place,” he said.

“We need to support those who wish to change things for the better; we need to encourage models of growth based on social equality, on the dignity of human persons, on families, on the future of young people, on respect for the environment.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-wasting-food-shows-a-lack-of-concern-for-others-15497

 

Canadian MPs fight to protect doctors, patients against euthanasia

Euthanasia photoDavid Anderson MP. Credit: Art Babych / Shutterstock

– Canadian members of parliament are attempting to pass a law that would protect the conscience rights of doctors, as government leaders look to expand access to euthanasia in the country.

Conservative MP David Anderson (Cypress Hills—Grasslands, Saskatchewan) introduced bill C-418 in October as a private member’s bill, seeking to protect medical practitioners unwilling to euthanize their patients or provide referrals for medically induced deaths.

Anderson told CNA that he was inspired to submit the bill after hearing complaints from doctors that Canada’s “medical assistance in dying” (MAID) policies were a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.

“One [part] of that oath is ‘we will not administer poison,’” Anderson told CNA in an interview. “So it’s clear, right? And yet, now the medical system is expected to be the ones who actually administer these drugs that terminate people’s lives.”

The legislation would make it illegal to “intimidate a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or any other health care professional for the purpose of compelling them to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying.”

The bill would also make it an offence to fire someone for refusing to take part in MAID. Canada’s healthcare system is government-run, tying doctors’ working conditions and practice closely to ministerial policy.

Last year, MAID accounted for 1.12 percent of all deaths in Canada. Although Canadians have an option to self-administer the drugs to end their lives, only a single person chose this option.

Anderson told CNA that he is concerned that MAID, coupled with Canada’s aging population and increasingly expensive healthcare system, could result in dehumanization.

Presently in Canada, women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of disability are “encouraged to abort [their preborn child] so they’re not part of our medical system beyond that one event,” Anderson said.

The MP is worried that this attitude could be expanded to view the elderly and persons with disabilities as unnecessarily expensive costs to the healthcare system.

“Certainly, seniors, disabled people cost the system more than the healthy people do,” Anderson said.

“You can see people justifying assisted suicide, euthanasia in the future in order to save money, and we don’t want to get to that point.”

Anderson said there are currently posters in hospitals that explain MAID, and also explain who can request that their doctor end their life.

He told CNA that he thinks this is “entirely inappropriate,” and that people “shouldn’t go into the hospital in order to facilitate (their) death.”

Currently, only people who are over the age of 18, have been deemed to be “mentally competent,” and have been diagnosed with a terminal physical illness by two doctors or two nurse practitioners are eligible to receive MAID.

But these restrictions could be changed, Conservative MP Michael Cooper of St. Albert-Edmonton warned CNA.

The existing MAID policy that was passed into law is “far more limited” than the version originally recommended by the joint legislative committee, Cooper said.

“My concern at this point in time is that the limited safeguards that have been put in place…All of that now is potentially on the table to be opened up, whereby there would be virtually no safeguards in place,” Cooper said.

Potential changes being considered, Cooper explained, include allowing those with mental illnesses as well as “mature minors” to request MAID, and the creation of an “advanced directive” whereby a person can give instructs for their own death as a contingency plan.

“At this point, there has been no indication that further changes to the law are going to be made,” said Cooper.

“But I’m not optimistic that over the long term that won’t be the case.”

Both Cooper and Anderson expressed concern about the state of palliative care in Canada as a result of the MAID law and a lack of clear conscience rights for doctors.

“We do have a strong palliative care community in Canada, who have been encouraging governments to really commit to that,” Anderson said.

“One of the things that concerns me is that I’m hearing about doctors who have been involved in palliative care in the past who are shutting down their practices because of the threat of being forced to participate in assisted suicide.”

This results in fewer palliative care doctors in Canada, “in a time when we probably should be encouraging it and strengthening it.”

“This government has basically window-dressed when it comes to palliative care,” said Cooper, the Albertan MP.

“There’s very little movement on the palliative care front.”

Cooper told CNA that he thinks it “essential” that palliative care be expanded in Canada and that it is not currently available to most Canadians, a problem he said predates the passage of MAID.

“Absent palliative care, many individuals may feel there is no other choice but to go down the road of physician assisted dying, or may even feel pressure from family members or friends who may be otherwise in a position of looking after them,” Cooper said.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/canadian-mps-fight-to-protect-doctors-patients-against-euthanasia-16438

‘We all need to be a little more like Kendrick’: Friends and family remember STEM hero

HeroKendrick Castillo and his father, John Castillo. Courtesy: Knights of
Columbus #4844 via Facebook

– A funny, selfless, and kind kid who loved tinkering with his car, goofing around with his friends, and above all, serving others, whether at Knights of Columbus pancake breakfasts or in robotics class – this was the Kendrick Castillo that friends and family gathered to remember at a celebration of his life on May 15 at Cherry Hills Community Church.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit,” Fr. Javier Nieva, pastor of St. Mary’s in Littleton, Colo., said at the ecumenical celebration. The quote, from Jesus, is in the Gospel of John.

“We celebrate fruits today,” Nieva said. “Not death (but the) fruits of his life.”

Kendrick laid down his life for others not only “in the moment of dying, but in his love for his family, his passion for service, his love for the truth” and helping others, Nieva said.

Kendrick Castillo, 18, gave his life to protect his friends when he jumped into the line of fire to stop a school shooter on May 7, according to witnesses. Castillo was the only casualty in the shooting at STEM high school in Highlands Ranch, Colo.; eight other students were injured in the incident.

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in May, friends and family packed Cherry Hills Community Church to remember a funny and kind friend, parishioner and son who was always smiling and helping others. On display at the church were some things representative of Kendrick’s hobbies and passions: a kayak, a red blazer he wore while ushering at Notre Dame parish, robotics and engineering paraphernalia.

Former teachers and friends from school took to the stage one by one to share a favorite memory of Kendrick, to extol his virtues and thank his parents.

Joseph Nguyen, a family friend of the Castillos and a member of the Catholic charitable group the Knights of Columbus, presented Kendrick’s parents, John and Maria Castillo, with a plaque that honored Kendrick as a full member of the Knights.

“Kendrick is forever a brother within the Knights of Columbus,” Nguyen said, presenting a plaque that came from members throughout the country and the world.

“His service with the Knights, in everything he did, there was a smile on his face,” Nguyen said, noting that Kendrick and his father John had logged  a combined 2,600 hours of community service with the Knights.

“I remember Kendrick for the just young man he was, the one who imitated Christ’s self-sacrificing love so that others might live and be safe,” he said. “Kendrick loved people, he loved his Church, and he loved his God.”

Charlene Molis, the principal of Notre Dame Catholic School, which Kendrick attended from pre-K to 8th grade, remembered a loving child who “is certainly proof that one person can make a difference.”

Molis said she saw Kendrick’s caring nature on the very first day of preschool, when he noticed a little boy crying across the room.

“The little boy was missing his mom,” Molis said. “Kendrick walked over, put his arm around him and told him it was going to be ok.”

She remembered a student who “respected everyone and always did his best.” She remembered that he liked to get dressed up for school plays as a cowboy or a pilgrim, but when it came to all-school Masses, he donned a three-piece suit.

She remembered his ability to figure out “anything technology related,” and how by the time he was a 6th grader, he became a sort of pseudo IT technician for his teachers, helping them with computer issues. She remembered his bright smile, quick wit, and willingness to collaborate with his teachers in playing jokes on his fellow classmates.

Most of all, she remembered how he served others.

“He seemed to be happiest serving others, and he did this humbly,” she said, whether it was working in the background to put on the school talent show, making and serving pancakes for the Knights of Columbus, DJing school dances, leading the computer club, or serving on the student council.

“He was the first to arrive and last to leave at school and church functions,” she said.

“He was the epitome of a young Christian man, and an inspiration to everyone who was lucky enough to know him,” Molis said. “We love you, Kendrick. We are all better people for having known him.”

Jordan Monk, Kendrick’s best friend, said they first met as freshmen in an engines class in high school. When it became clear that Kendrick knew the most about engines in the class, Monk jumped at the chance to become his lab partner.

“Our friendship started purely out of survival instincts,” Monk said. “I wanted an A in that class, and found the best way to do so.”

But after just one class period, “I like many others knew there was something special about Kendrick. I’d figured we’d get along just fine as lab partners, but I had no idea he’d have such a profound impact on my life.”

The two bonded over lab projects and mishaps, and soon became best friends.

“Teachers had a love-hate relationship with us,” Monk said. “They loved us because of the joy and laughter that we brought to class, but that joy and laughter was apparently distracting for some students.”

When they weren’t in school, Monk spent hours with Kendrick in his backyard, where they would tinker on mini-bikes or golf carts, and on their cars once they got their licenses.

“We changed brakes and oil…and detailed our cars almost religiously,” Monk said. “Whenever I was able to drag (Kendrick) to our school dances, we always had the two cleanest rides.”

Monk recalled a favorite memory with Kendrick, when they dressed up as the main characters from the movie Wayne’s World, and drove around with their car tops down, fake mullets flowing in the wind, and Queen blasting on the radio.

“The only sound you could hear over Bohemian Rhapsody was our laughter,” Monk recalled. He said he and Kendrick often were up to things that could be considered weird, but they didn’t care, “because we had the time of our lives doing it.”

At the end of the celebration, Kendrick’s father, John, addressed the crowd. He thanked the school and church communities and first responders for their care and support, and said he has “felt the love of thousands” in the days since his son’s death.

“If we had to describe him a certain way, first it would be love, the love for anybody he met,” John said. “I mean anybody. He was compassionate. If you were walking down the street and fell, he’d walk over to make sure you’re ok.”

“There’s risk in love,” he added. “There’s risk in being hurt, in rejection. Kendrick knew all of these things and he never wavered. He knew right from wrong, and we all do.”

John remembered Kendrick as a son who valued relationships over physical things, who cherished hunting trips with his dad and grandpa and loved going to animated movies with his mom.

“We all really really love Kendrick, and to carry on his life’s message, we need to be more like him,” John said, whether that’s helping someone who is struggling or including someone who is lonely.

“I always knew he was a gift and a hero, he was filled up with the good stuff” of life, he noted, like faith and love.

He encouraged those present to “walk your faith like Kendrick did,” recalling how his son would take off his hat and bless his food before eating at Taco Bell without caring what people might think.

“It’s not difficult,” he said. “We just have to love.”

Kendrick’s funeral and burial will be at the end of this week. The details are kept private at the request of the family.

Pope Francis issues norms for reports of abuse of minors, seminarians, and religious

St Peter RomeThe dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Credit: Luxerendering/Shutterstock.

– New Vatican norms for the Church’s handling of sex abuse, issued Thursday, place seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the misuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The norms also establish obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, require that every diocese has a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations against suffragan bishops.

Pope Francis promulgated the law May 9 via a motu proprio, titled, “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world”). He approved its promulgation on an experimental basis for a period of three years. It will enter in effect June 1, 2019.

“The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful,” the pope wrote, stating that the primary responsibility for improving the handling of these issues falls to the bishop, though it concerns all who have ministries in the Church or “serve the Christian People.”

“Therefore, it is good that procedures be universally adopted to prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful,” he said.

The norms regard what are called, in canon law, “delicts against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue,” consisting of sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person; forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts through violence, threat, or abuse of authority; and the production or possession of child pornography.

The new law also concerns any actions intended to cover-up a civil or canonical investigation into accusations of child pornography use, sexual abuse of minors, or sexual coercion through abuse of power.

It establishes the so-called “metropolitan model” for the investigation of accusations against bishops and their equivalents, as proposed by Cardinal Blase Cupich at the November meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Vatican February summit on the protection of minors.

According to the new law, the metropolitan archbishop will conduct the investigation into a suffragan bishop with a mandate from the Holy See. The metropolitan is required to send reports to the Holy See on the progress of the investigation every 30 days and to complete the investigation within 90 days unless granted an extension.

The metropolitan archbishop may use the assistance of qualified laypeople in carrying out the investigation, though it is primarily his responsibility, the norms state. Bishops’ conferences may establish funds to support these investigations.

The document emphasizes that “the person under investigation enjoys the presumption of innocence.”

At the conclusion of the investigation, the results are sent to the competent Vatican dicastery, which will then apply the applicable penalty according to existing canon law.

In the event a report concerns a major archbishop, it will be forwarded to the Holy See.

One article states that Church authorities shall be committed to ensuring “that those who state that they have been harmed, together with their families, are to be treated with dignity and respect,” be welcomed, listened to, and supported, offered spiritual assistance, and medical and psychological assistance.

The norms also introduce obligatory reporting, requiring that every cleric or religious man or woman who has become aware of an accusation of abuse or cover-up report it “promptly” to the proper church authority.

The ‘motu proprio’ also states that it will be required that every diocese create a stable mechanism or system through which people may submit reports of abuse or its cover-up. The exact form of the system, which could also be an entire office, will be left to the discretion of the individual diocese, but must be established by June 2020.

“Even if so much has already been accomplished, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future,” Pope Francis wrote.

“In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed,” he said, “attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church.”

“This becomes possible only with the grace of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, as we must always keep in mind the words of Jesus: ‘Apart from me you can do nothing.’”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-issues-norms-for-reports-of-abuse-of-minors-seminarians-and-religious-94849

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Vatican-China deal, Chinese bishop imprisoned for 23 years is not yet released

Flag_of ChinaFlag of China. Credit: Tomas Roggero via Flickr CC BY 20 12 10 15.

 The nephew of a Chinese bishop who was arrested 23 years ago has said he does not know where his uncle is incarcerated, or even whether he is still alive. “His whereabouts are unknown and I don’t even know if he is alive or not. I am upset with tears every time I think of this 87-year-old man. Please pray for him,” Su Tianyou told UCANews recently.

His uncle is Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding, in China’s Hebei province, southwest of Beijing.

In 1996, the bishop was arrested during a procession, and charged with conducting “unregistered” religious activities: Su had refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government recognized Catholic Church in China, and was instead a member of the “underground” Church- in communion with Rome, and appointed a bishop by Pope St. John Paul II, but unrecognized by the Chinese government as a bishop.

It was not the first time Su was arrested. According to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Human Rights Commission, Su has spent 40 years in prison, “without charge, without trial.”

“Before being arrested in 1996, Bishop Su Zhimin was held off and on for 26 years either in prison or forced labor camps.  The Chinese government deemed him as ‘counterrevolutionary’ because, since the 1950s, he has refused to join the Patriotic Association,” the Human Rights Commission says.

Su reportedly escaped Chinese detention in 1997, but was rearrested.

“In November 2003, his family discovered him by chance at a hospital in Baoding, surrounded by police and public security.  He has not been heard or seen from since, despite repeated international inquiries,” according to the Human Rights Commission.

Su’s nephew, Su Tianyou, told UCANews that he met in 2015 with Guo Wei, a Chinese official who told him that the bishop might be released if there were an improvement in Vatican-China relations.

In September 2018, Beijing and Vatican officials signed a provisional agreement on bishop appointments, that was intended to unify the underground Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

According to Su Tianyou, neither Vatican nor Chinese officials have indicated whether Su might now be released. In October 2018, Hong Kong’s Bishop Michael Yeung said that his diocese continued to pray for Su, and hope for his release.

“Whether he is in prison, or kept secret in some other place, or whether he has already died, nobody really knows,” Yueng told Reuters.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s latest report, issued April 29, noted that despite last year’s Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, “repression of the underground Catholic Church increased during the latter half of the year.” The commission, known as the USCIRF, is a bipartisan group that advises the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State on international religious freedom issues.

Among the report’s inclusion of commissioners’ “individual views” were those of Johnnie Moore, who called the deal “one of the most alarming incidents as it relates to religious freedom in the entire year.”

“Within days of the Vatican negotiating its deal, the Chinese used it as cover to embark upon the closure of several of the nation’s largest and most prominent unregistered church communities,” Moore wrote.

Moore believes the Vatican “now bears a significant moral and legal responsibility to help solve the problem which it helped created—albeit inadvertently—by providing China license to viciously crack down on Christian communities (as cited in this report), and by providing the Chinese government further cover to continue its incomprehensible, inexcusable and inhumane abuses of Muslim citizens in the western part of the country.”

“While I am entirely for direct engagement on these issues, including with the most severe violators in the world, that engagement must not result in these types of unintended consequences, as has been the case in China. The Vatican made a terrible mistake, which it must take seriously. This debacle must be dealt with urgently and seriously.”

April’s USCIRF report also highlighted the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. To date, between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghurs— or about 10% of their population— have been detained and sent to “re-education camps” to be subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

The report calls on the US government to sanction those in the Chinese government responsible for the detention of the Uyghurs.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/after-vatican-china-deal-chinese-bishop-imprisoned-for-23-years-is-not-yet-released-87066

Aasia Bibi: Christian acquitted of blasphemy leaves Pakistan

Aasi
Bibi was convicted and sentenced to death for blasphemy by a trial court in November 2010 [File: AP]
by Asad Hashim

Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last year in a case that has become emblematic of fair trial concerns in such cases, has been granted asylum in Canada, her lawyer says.

Bibi, 53, flew out of Pakistan after being held for months in protective custody by Pakistani authorities following her acquittal, Saif-ul-Malook told Al Jazeera by telephone on Wednesday.

She joins her husband and two daughters, Malook said. “She has gone to Canada, she will live there now as she has been granted asylum by them,” he said.

Canadian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

Bibi spent eight years on death row after her arrest in the central village of Ithan Wali after an argument with two Muslim women who refused to drink water from the same vessel as her, due to her religion.

The women and a local cleric accused Bibi of having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad during the altercation, a charge that she has consistently denied.

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the country’s strict laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for some forms of the crime.

Increasingly, blasphemy allegations have led to murders and mob lynchings, with at least 74 people killed in such violence since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

Among those killed were Salman Taseer, then a provincial governor, and Shahbaz Bhatti, then a federal minister, in 2010. Both officials had stood up for Bibi when she was first accused of blasphemy.

Incendiary issue

In a landmark judgment acquitting Bibi, the Supreme Court noted in October that there were “glaring and stark” contradictions in the prosecution’s case against Bibi.

“[There is] the irresistible and unfortunate impression that all those concerned in the case with providing evidence and conducting investigation had taken upon themselves not to speak the truth of at least not to divulge the whole truth,” wrote Justice Asif Khosa, now Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, in the verdict.

Bibi had been convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court in November 2010, with the Lahore High Court upholding her conviction on appeal four years later. Rights groups had long insisted there were numerous fair trial concerns in her case, as well as in blasphemy prosecutions generally.

The Supreme Court verdict prompted days of violent protests by the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious group with widespread support that has long pushed for those accused of blasphemy to be executed or murdered extrajudicially.

Led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP blocked roads and major intersections across the country following Bibi’s acquittal in October.

Rizvi was arrested in November and charged with treason for leading the protests. Afzal Qadri, the cofounder of the TLP, released a statement last week apologising for the protests and promising not to engage in further political activity.

Rizvi, and scores of other TLP activists, remain in police custody, charged with hate speech and inciting violence.

Days after the verdict was announced, Bibi’s lawyer Malook sought refuge in the Netherlands, citing threats to his life for having represented her.

In February, Bibi told the Associated Press news agency through an intermediary that she was being held by Pakistani authorities in indefinite protective custody and that they would not let her leave the country.

On Tuesday, “the long running issue” of her departure from the country was resolved, her lawyer says, and Bibi is now safely in Canada and reunited with her family.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/aasia-bibi-christian-acquitted-blasphemy-leaves-pakistan-190508072729494.html

War, drought, diplomatic rifts deepen Afghanistan’s water crisis

imageA recent flash flood in Kamp-e-Sakhi damaged Somagul’s home and destroyed her family’s most expensive belongings [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

On a bright day in April, in the aftermath of flash floods, rays of sun fall onto the cracked clay soil in Kamp-e-Sakhi in some parts and, in others, illuminate large puddles that dot the raw land.

In the northern Afghan district, on the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif city, antiflood bags still lie on the wet ground although they helped little when the water spread days earlier, destroying modest homes.

Somagul, a 60-year-old former farmer who left her home in Baghlan last year because of severe drought and pressure from the Taliban, did not expect the flood.

On March 29, the sound of water hitting her door awakened her in the middle of the night.

“We escaped in the dark with my children and grandchildren. There was no light, but we managed to find our way out, we got wet and dirty. All our things stayed in the house,” Somagul told Al Jazeera. “We went higher up to the street which was not flooded and we stayed there for the whole night. In the morning when the flood was gone, we came back.”

Although the flood soon reversed, Somagul and her family, including her sister, four children and 16 grandchildren, lost most of their few valuable possessions.

Electronic devices were among their most expensive belongings that were destroyed; it will take a long time to replace them.

Since the family moved to Mazar-e Sharif, only her son-in-law has managed to find work at the local coal market and they have no land to grow crops.

This was the second time in Somagul’s life that water-related disasters came to define her family’s fate.

Afghanistan, where the worst drought in a decade has displaced an estimated 260,000 people, has been struggling with the acute consequences of climate change, water mismanagement and 40 years of war that took its toll on the country’s weak water infrastructure.

Droughts and floods have become the norm, destroying the lives of Afghans across the country.

An upstream country, Afghanistan is not naturally water stressed. Eighty percent of its resources come from surface water that flows from snowfields and glaciers in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya mountains.

Over the course of Spring and Summer, the mountain snows melt and fuel Afghanistan’s five river basins.

From there, the water enters the canals and spreads across the country.

Most of Afghanistan’s irrigation depends on these resources. As the Afghan proverb goes, “may Kabul be without gold rather than snow.”

But ever since the Soviet invasion, the country’s infrastructure has been falling into ruin.

First, the bombings and years of fighting destroyed much of its canals. Then the Taliban administration did little to repair the damage, let alone build new infrastructure.

Following the US invasion, the Afghan government with the support of the international community has put water management high on its agenda, investing efforts to rehabilitate the canals.

But the infrastructure is inadequate for the needs of the country’s growing population.

Most of Afghanistan’s partners have been reluctant to support large projects, such as dams, which require substantial funds.

India, though, has sponsored the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Hari river and is planning the construction of Shahtoot Dam on the Kabul River.

Dams are crucial to store the water needed for irrigation and prevent flash floods, which have become frequent due to climate change.

In a country where agriculture contributes between 20 and 40 percent of the GDP, depending on the year, and employs about 60 percent of the workforce, the lack of investment has had disastrous consequences.

“Because of climate change, our winters have been getting hotter year by year and we’ve had much more rain in springs instead of snow in winters, which recently resulted in floods in many provinces especially in the north and west of Afghanistan,” Abdul Basir Azimi, water expert and the former deputy minister of energy and water told Al Jazeera.

“Twenty Afghan provinces experienced about a 60 percent decrease in snowfall during the last winter season in 2017, and before that.

“Severe drought throughout the country and excessively warm weather have affected the rural and urban populations, the agricultural economy and recently led to a tremendous increase in the number of IDPs.”

Drought has also affected the levels of groundwater that Afghan cities have been relying on for drinking.

Kabul is home to almost five million people and the capital’s population, according to estimates, will double in the next 10 years. The city has been particularly vulnerable to water shortages.

“Last year, we experienced severe drought in the country including in the Kabul River basin. The groundwater level dropped by more than 10 metres,” Tayib Bromand, water resources and climate change adaptation specialist at the ministry of water and energy, told Al Jazeera.

“In Afghanistan’s major cities there was not enough water for domestic supply. Particularly, the most elevated parts of Kabul do not receive sufficient water for drinking.”

Unable to access drinking water through the official distribution networks, Afghanistan’s population has been relying on unofficial wells with poor-quality water. Others have been using paid water delivery services provided by private companies.

While Afghanistan has now entered peace talks with the Taliban, internal displacement caused by the water crisis might further stir conflict.

In some areas, farmers have no choice but to join armed groups in order to feed their families.

At the local level, conflicts over water also erupt between upstream and downstream areas, as well as individual farmers.

Jenna Jadin, a scientist with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera: “We’re trying to make sure that water is incorporated into everything we are doing: for example, in projects where we’re teaching people to diversify their livelihoods and diets through planting new crops, we are also making sure to teach better water usage for those crops.

“We are also implementing projects that restore forests and rangelands, which will reduce surface water losses and soil erosion.”

But Afghanistan’s water scarcity has the potential to cause conflict on a regional level, too.

Due to insufficient infrastructure and decades of conflict, 70 percent of the country’s surface water ends up flowing into neighbouring states, all of which, apart from Tajikistan, are water stressed.

“Afghanistan’s situation has created an opportunity for the neighbouring countries to unfairly and unreasonably develop their agriculture lands at a very rapid pace downstream and also illegitimately transfer the water from the bordering lands to their central provinces,” Azimi said.

“The neighbouring countries have been irrigating hundreds of hectares of agricultural lands with water flowing from Afghanistan’s rivers, but on the other side, the neighbouring countries have built too many dams and not allowed any water [to flow] into Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan, therefore, has a pressing need for new dams to manage its scarce water reserves.

But more water staying in the country means less water for its neighbours. And while there are existing international agreements dealing with water scarcity between the five Central Asian states, for example, Afghanistan has not been part of them.

The only water agreement Afghanistan has signed was a 1973 treaty with Iran regulating the inflow of water to the country. But even that has not prevented conflict between the neighbours.

The Afghan government has long accused Iran of supporting the Taliban in order to disrupt the construction of a dam on the Helmand River, which could potentially affect the delivery of water to the country.

Similarly, Pakistan, one of the most water-stressed countries in the region, opposes the construction of the Shahtoot Dam on the Kabul River sponsored by its archenemy India.

The construction of the dam could reduce the flow of water into Pakistan.

The potential of regional conflict is high and investing in water management is crucial for Afghanistan’s security.

While most of the country’s international partners are reluctant to make such costly, long-term investments that bring little profit, the government is increasingly seeing water as a security issue.

If “hydro-diplomacy” continues to be put high on the state’s agenda, not everything is lost.

“Afghanistan has had to deal with many decades of war, and, as we’ve seen the world over, environmental issues sometimes exacerbate political tensions,” Jadin said. “If we can help the people restore their environment it may very well have a positive cascading effect on other aspects of life.”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/war-drought-diplomatic-rifts-deepen-afghanistans-water-crisis-190504203303668.html