Category Archives: Environment

We scientists must rise up to prevent the climate crisis. Words aren’t enough

ScientistExtinction Rebellion protesters on Waterloo Bridge, London, April 2019. ‘This is what we have been waiting for, yet strangely the reaction within the scientific community has been muted.’ Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

As scientists, we tend to operate under an unspoken assumption – that our job is to provide the world with factual information, and if we do so our leaders will use it to make wise decisions. But what if that assumption is wrong? For decades, conservation scientists like us have been telling the world that species and ecosystems are disappearing, and that their loss will have devastating impacts on humanity. Meanwhile, climate scientists have been warning that the continued burning of fossil fuels and destruction of natural carbon sinks, such as forests and peatlands, will lead to catastrophic planetary heating.

We have collectively written tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers, and shared our findings with policymakers and the public. And, on the face of it, we seem to have done a pretty good job: after all, we all know about the environmental and climate crises, don’t we?

But while we’re now well informed, we haven’t actually changed course. Biodiversity loss proceeds apace, to the extent that a million species face extinction in the coming decades, and we continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere at ever faster rates. We have emitted more greenhouse gases since 1990, in full awareness of its impacts, than we ever did in ignorance. It seems that knowledge alone cannot trigger the radical global changes we so urgently need.

It was this realisation that incited us both to embrace activism, and to take to the streets and engage in non-violent civil disobedience as members of Extinction Rebellion. The refusal to obey certain laws has a long and glorious history: from the suffragettes to Rosa Parks and Gandhi, many of the 20th century’s greatest heroes engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to win their rights.

Today, civil disobedience is again on the rise. And it is working. The protests that shut down four sites in London in April raised the climate crisis rapidly up the political agenda, and into the public consciousness. The environment is now the third most pressing issue for British voters, above the economy, crime and immigration: the UK parliament and half the country’s local councils have declared a climate emergency, and a zero-carbon target has been enshrined into law. We don’t know what policy change will follow, but it is an encouraging start.

Alongside this are the Greta Thunberg-inspired school strikes and our sister movements worldwide. This is what we have been waiting for. And yet, the reaction within the scientific community has been strangely muted. In conversation, our conservationist colleagues (and we imagine climate scientists, too) have long bemoaned the fact that environmental issues remain so marginal in the public consciousness. “If only conservation was mainstream,” we lament, “and if only people would take action to fight for our world.” Well, now they are, yet few of us seem to have joined them.

Young people have embraced the movement, and grandparents, too. So have doctors and lawyers, farmers and unemployed people. But not many scientists, which is odd given we probably know more about the severity of the problems we face than anybody. Perhaps it’s related to an unspoken assumption that if our job is to provide information, then adopting a position will weaken our authority. In fact, research shows it doesn’t.

Alternatively, scientists may be reluctant to rise up because there are “proper” channels for influencing policy: you can vote, you can write letters and sign petitions, and if things get really desperate you can walk from A to B on a sanctioned march. The trouble is, these avenues aren’t working, and lobbyists for fossil-fuel industries have far greater access to political decision-makers. In 2018, for example, oil and gas lobbyists alone spent more than $125m (£100m) lobbying politicians in just one country, the United States.

Worse, these lobbyists and the corporations they work for have invested heavily in an anti-science agenda, all with the aim of convincing the world that we can carry on as normal. They are endangering our very survival in pursuit of profit, and undermining the faith in truth, rationality and the scientific method that – surely – will be critical to surviving these crises. This is why we have taken a break from our usual areas of research to publish an article in the prestigious journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, urging our fellow scientists to rise up and embrace rebellion.

As scientists we have spent years telling policymakers that we must change course, but they haven’t taken action. They may be starting to now, but only because people have engaged in open rebellion, making it clear that we will no longer accept inaction. Surely scientists have a moral duty to join the masses, and rebel for life.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/06/scientists-climate-crisis-activism-extinction-rebellion

Ireland, France set to block EU-Mercosur trade deal over Amazon

BED9A5E4-EE61-40A2-A8F5-85B8A0098FEBVast tracts of the Amazon jungle has burned and are being cleared by loggers and farmers in Novo Airao [Bruno Kelly/Reuters]

As wildfires rage through the Amazon, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and French President Emmanuel Macron have said they will vote against a trade deal between the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur unless Brazil takes action to protect the rainforest.

Varadkar said in a statement he was very concerned at the record levels of rainforest destruction, and said the Irish government would closely monitor Brazil’s environmental actions in the two years until the Mercosur deal is ratified

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,” he said.

Macron, meanwhile, believes his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro lied to him on Brazil’s stance on climate change, and France will now join Ireland in blocking the trade deal between the EU and South American nations.

“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka [G20] summit [in June],” a French presidential official said on Friday, as a public row flared between the two leaders over wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest.

Brazil’s comments and policies over the past few weeks showed the right-wing Bolsonaro did not intend to respect obligations on climate change and also did not want to commit on concrete proposals to maintain biodiversity, said the official.

“Under these conditions, France will oppose the Mercosur (Free Trade Agreement with the EU) as it stands,” the French official added.

About 500 protesters, many from the Extinction Rebellion climate strike group, blocked the road outside Brazil’s embassy in London on Friday morning, incensed at Bolsonaro’s lack of environmental protections.

“When we destroy elements of biodiversity, we cut the threads that hold everything together,” Farnan Ellwood of the University of the West of England told Al Jazeera. “Biodiversity is nature’s protection mechanism, its insurance policy.

“We need to stop using hardwood furniture, stop eating beef – because it’s the beef farming which is driving deforestation. The second thing is to recognise the world has changed – we simply cannot go back. But there is some good news; scientists are trying to rebuild the biodiversity. If we can put the fire out – literally and figuratively – and stop the decline, then we can try to restore some of these complex networks of biodiversity.”

Macron had tweeted on Thursday that fires burning in the Amazon amounted to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority when the G7 countries meet this weekend in France.
Bolsonaro then blasted Macron for having a “colonialist mentality”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined Macron’s call on Friday, and it looks likely to be a topic for discussion.

Vast tracts of the Amazon – often described as the lungs of the world – are currently ablaze in what is known as the burning season. Environmentalists have blamed deforestation for an increase in fires and accuse Bolsonaro of cutting protection of an area deemed crucial in combating climate change.

Varadkar said Bolsonaro’s effort to blame non-government environmental organisations for the fires was “Orwellian”.

Ireland and France will need other EU states to help form a blocking minority if it wants to kill the deal which was reached in June after 20 years of negotiations between the EU and the Mercosur countries – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

But the Irish government is under pressure to defend its beef farmers, already suffering from Britain’s looming EU exit and low prices, by seeking to ensure Mercosur countries do not flood the market with cheaper beef.

Bolsonaro has rejected what he calls foreign interference in Brazil’s affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/ireland-block-eu-mercosur-trade-deal-amazon-fires-190823095908509.html

 

 

 

A London college bans beef to fight climate change

8F8E5DC5-294D-404A-B92E-C595D904A71FUniversity of London’s Goldsmiths college is tackling climate change by introducing a small levy on bottled water and single-use plastics that are sold on its London campus [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

A London college said on Monday it has banned beef from its campus to combat climate change, becoming the first higher education institution in Britain to do so.

From next month onward, Goldsmiths, part of the University of London, will no longer sell beef anywhere on its campus. It will also introduce a small levy on bottled water and single-use plastics to discourage their use.

“The growing global call for organisations to take seriously their responsibilities for halting climate change is impossible to ignore,” said Frances Corner, head of Goldsmiths.

Staff and students were “determined to help deliver the step change we need to cut our carbon footprint drastically and as quickly as possible,” Corner said.

The college said it aimed to switch to clean energy and become carbon neutral – meaning it will produce no more carbon emissions than it can offset – by 2025.

Livestock farming is a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions, consumes a tenth of the world’s freshwater and causes large-scale deforestation, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Forests soak up heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere and deforestation can amplify global warming due to the loss of vegetation and soil erosion, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said.

Plant-based foods and sustainable animal-sourced food could free up several million square kilometres of land by 2050 and cut 0.7 to 8.0 gigatonnes a year of carbon dioxide equivalent, the IPCC said in a major report last week.

“Declaring a climate emergency cannot be empty words … Goldsmiths now stands shoulder to shoulder with other organisations willing to call the alarm and take urgent action to cut carbon use,” said Corner.

Goldsmiths has joined a growing number of businesses and organisations to discourage meat consumption.

Last July, global office-sharing company WeWork, which operates in 22 countries, became one of the first international firms to ban staff from expensing meals that contain meat.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/london-college-bans-beef-fight-climate-change-190812172654478.html

 

Paddling in plastic: meet the man swimming the Pacific garbage patch

Plastic Ben Lecomte holds a piece of plastic found in the Pacific Ocean that has become a home for small crabs. Photograph: @osleston

Ben Lecomte is spending his summer swimming in trash – literally. So far, he’s found toothbrushes, laundry baskets, sandbox shovels and beer crates floating out in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The 52-year-old Frenchman is journeying from Hawaii to San Francisco via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to better understand how plastic is affecting our oceans. He will swim a total of 300 nautical miles, intermittently travelling by sailboat with a crew of 10 the rest of the way.

His swim will take him through a gyre known as the Pacific trash vortex, home to the largest concentration of plastic debris in the world. The distance is also a metaphorical journey for the 300m tons of plastic waste produced annually, of which an estimated 8m tons of plastic waste is pushed into the oceans.

Since starting the trip on 14 June in Hawaii, Lecomte and his crew – consisting of sailors, storytellers and scientists – have found everything from empty containers to children’s toys and abandoned fishing nets. Crew member and scientist Drew McWhirter even discovered microplastics in their dinner: upon slitting open a freshly caught mahi-mahi, he saw a piece of plastic lodged in the fish’s stomach.

“It was a very sobering experience,” Lecomte says. “Plastic trash coming back to our plates.”

The long-distance swim is the first of its kind ever to be attempted. Designed as a science-meets-adventure expedition, Lecomte and his team are collecting microplastic samples and placing GPS tags on larger floating plastic waste, so that researchers can better understand how plastics move through the oceans.

Lecomte is also on a mission to debunk the myth that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating pile of plastic. There is no “trash island”, he says, but rather an “underwater smog of microplastic”.

This is not Lecomte’s first long-distance swim. In 1998, he became the first man to cross the Atlantic without the aid of a kickboard – a feat that took him 73 days and even saw him followed by sharks. Last year he attempted to swim across the Pacific, launching from Japan. He completed 1,500 nautical miles (2,700 kilometers) before he was forced to abandon the effort due to stormy conditions, which damaged his support boat.

That support boat is crucial, giving Lecomte the rest and nourishment he needs to swim an average of eight hours every day. He stops during his swim to have some soup and bread and refuel but can go as long as five hours without stopping. After eight hours in the water he’ll get back on the boat for a carb-heavy meal, he says, followed by an evening nap and a second meal at night. Lecomte, who hopes to complete the crossing in September, swims seven days a week, taking breaks only when he’s severely fatigued or if the weather conditions are too risky.

Meanwhile, the crew is busy using nets to collect samples of plastic in the water, often thousands of pieces per day, which are meticulously laid out and counted. The team estimates that in the past three weeks they’ve collected more than 17,000 pieces of microplastics and spotted more than 1,200 larger pieces of floating trash.

Lecomte’s swimming route is dictated by scientists from the University of Hawaii, using satellite imagery and ocean modeling to locate the highest concentration of debris. “Our goal is to arrive in California with the first transpacific dataset on plastic pollution, and engage as many people as possible to be part of the solution,” Lecomte says.

This expedition is also sponsored by Icebreaker, a New Zealand-based outdoor brand that emphasizes the use of natural materials in its clothing. His swim is drawing attention to the increasing prevalence of synthetic microfibers in the planet’s water systems. Studies have estimated that between 700,000 and 1m synthetic fibers are unleashed by just one load of washing in a machine.

Dr Sarah-Jeanne Royer at the University of San Diego specializes in plastic and microfiber degradation, and has been supporting Lecomte’s mission from land. She says the boat crew has collected seawater samples at a variety of locations, and found microfibers in every sample. “These synthetic fibers are so lightweight, that they’re being carried everywhere,” she says. “We’re breathing them.”

Despite enormous public interest, scientists still know little about the pervasiveness of ocean plastic pollution, says Royer. The vastness of the oceans makes the movement of plastics difficult to study, while gyres such as the one Lecomte is swimming near can keep plastic waste in a restricted area for long periods of time, before unleashing them towards the Hawaiian shorelines.

“We only know where 1% of the plastic waste is in the ocean,” she says. Indeed, a 2014 study found that the overwhelming majority of all plastic known to have entered the oceans cannot be accounted for. “So the big question for us is where is this plastic going in the ocean?”

She hopes the findings by Lecomte and his team will help begin to answer that question.

“This data is priceless. [The crew] could have done a campaign without collecting data. But they realized how important it is to collect these samples,” she says. “Without science, it’s not possible to prove the claims about plastics and its damaging effect on the environment.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/30/paddling-in-plastic-meet-the-man-swimming-the-pacific-garbage-patch

Global heating to inflict more droughts on Africa as well as floods

droughtFlooding in the Tana river area of Kenya in 2018, when 60,000 people were forced to move home. Photograph: Andrew Kasuku/AFP

Global heating could bring many more bouts of severe drought as well as increased flooding to Africa than previously forecast, scientists have warned.

New research says the continent will experience many extreme outbreaks of intense rainfall over the next 80 years. These could trigger devastating floods, storms and disruption of farming. In addition, these events are likely to be interspersed with more crippling droughts during the growing season and these could also damage crop and food production.

“Essentially we have found that both ends of Africa’s weather extremes will get more severe,” said Elizabeth Kendon of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter. “The wet extreme will get worse, but also the appearance of dry spells during the growing season will also get more severe.”

This meteorological double whammy is blamed on the burning of fossil fuels, which is increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and causing it to heat up. Last month levels of carbon dioxide reached 415 parts per million, their highest level since Homo sapiens first appeared on Earth – and scientists warn that they are likely to continue on this upward curve for several decades. Global temperatures will be raised dangerously as a result.

The new meteorology study – carried out by scientists at the Met Office in collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University – reports on the likely impact on Africa of these temperature rises and indicates that western and central areas will suffer the worst impacts of weather disruptions. Many countries in these regions – including Niger, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are expected to experience substantial growth in population over that time and will be particularly vulnerable to severe floods.

At the other end of the precipitation spectrum, the study revealed there would be an increase in occasions when severe drought would occur for up to 10 days in the midst of the most critical part of a region’s growing season. The result could cause severe disruption to crop production.

“We have been able to model – in much finer detail than was previously possible – the manner in which rainfall patterns will change over Africa,” said Kendon. In the past it was thought intense rainfalls would occur in a region every 30 years. The new study, funded by UK foreign aid, indicates this is more likely to happen every three or four years.

An example of such flooding occurred two weeks ago when it was reported that eight people had died south of Kampala in Uganda after torrential rain hit the region. Similarly, at least 15 people were reported to have died during floods in Kenya last year. Thousands lost their homes.

“Our research suggests that extreme bouts of rainfall are likely to be seven or eight times more frequent than they are today,” said Kendon.

The new research, which is published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, is based on forecasts of rainfall in Africa that were achieved by analysing weather patterns in great detail.

“Africa is one of the parts of the planet that is going to be most vulnerable to climate change,” said Kendon. “Our study of rainfall patterns shows there are going to be some very severe problems to face food security and dealing with droughts.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jun/14/africa-global-heating-more-droughts-and-flooding-threat

‘Reaching end game’: New paper on climate change raises alarm

Climate changeProtesters march demanding urgent measures to combat climate change in Kolkata, India last week [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

A climate change paper grabbed headlines this week with its terrifying prediction of what the world will be in 30 years’ time – absent drastic and immediate change to human societies.

“World of outright chaos,” “Climate apocalypse,” “We’re all gonna die,” the media banners blared.

The sobering headlines and equally disconcerting stories beneath described a “scenario analysis” by an Australian think-tank, Breakthrough National Center for Climate Restoration.

The paper portrayed what the year 2050 will look like if urgent action to build carbon-neutral energy systems around the world fails to come to fruition in the next 10 years.

It’s worse than any of the apocalyptic Hollywood horror films making the rounds.

One billion people displaced and fighting desperately for survival, with half the world’s population subjected to “lethal heat” conditions for more than 20 days a year – “beyond the threshold of human survivability”.

Drought, wildfires, and floods collapse entire ecosystems as two billion people struggle for potable water. Mega-cities such as Mumbai, Hong Kong, Lagos, and Manila are largely abandoned because of massive floods.

“This scenario provides a glimpse into a world of ‘outright chaos’ on a path to the end of human civilisation and modern society as we have known it,” said the paper, co-authored by Ian Dunlop, a former chair of the Australian Coal Association, and David Spratt, a long-time climate researcher.

‘The end game’

Spratt told Al Jazeera the eye-catching headlines were “somewhat over the top”, but he maintained the dire warnings were legitimate.

“We are reaching the end game, there are not a lot of pieces left on the chess board. We have to take action really fast,” said Spratt.

He challenged climate scientists, including those from the leading Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be more forthright with the global public about the calamity awaiting humanity if nothing is immediately done to halt the pumping of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The planet is currently on track for a 4.5 degree Celsius increase in global temperature as CO2 emissions continue to rise each year.

Dunlop noted the IPCC set a target of staying below a 1.5C increase in the coming decades. “This IPCC analysis assumes only a 50-66 percent chance of meeting the targets. Not good odds for the future of humanity,” he wrote this week.

Asked about the criticism, IPCC’s Nina Peeva responded: “We can’t comment on individual papers on climate science. Our job is to inform policymakers about the current state of knowledge on climate change… If this paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal, it will probably be considered in the next assessment appearing in 2021.”

US intelligence warnings

Congressional testimony from two US government intelligence analysts on Wednesday seemed to corroborate Breakthrough’s grim climate change analysis.

Peter Kiemel, from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told a House committee investigating the global effects of climate change on national security that it played a role in the bloody civil wars in Syria and Libya, and will do the same in the future.

Just prior to the outbreak of Syria’s devastating war in 2011, the region suffered one of the most severe droughts in its history, quadrupling rural-to-urban migration and causing food riots.

Climate change impacts on food and water systems were also “catalysts for social breakdown and conflict” in the Maghreb and the Sahel, contributing to the European migration crisis, Breakthrough’s paper said.

“We already have seen water crises exacerbate social unrest in and emigration from fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Kiemel.

“As the climate changes, disputes over water and access to arable land are likely to grow, prompting more such local conflicts.”

Rod Schoonover, a senior State Department analyst, told members of the House Intelligence Committee no nation would be immune from the ravages of climate change.

“Most countries, if not all, are already unable to fully respond to the risks posed by climate-linked hazards under the present conditions,” said Schoonover.

“Absent extensive mitigating factors or events, we see few plausible future scenarios where significant harm does not arise from the compounded effects of climate change.”

The Washington Post reported on Friday that Trump administration officials ordered the words “possibly catastrophic” erased from Schoonover’s written statement.

What can’t be deleted is a 2007 climate change security report titled The Age of Consequences, co-authored by former CIA director James Woolsey. Its wording leaves no doubt about the threat to the human species.

“Armed conflict between nations over resources, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervour to outright chaos,” the study warned.

Race against time

While the immense challenge of abruptly ending fossil fuel use seems extremely daunting, there are reasons for hope.

Spratt and others noted the technology to shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy is already in place, and more could be done if government budgets were allocated towards decarbonisation.

“We have the technological and economic capacity. If we would have made the shift in 2009, we would be all right today,” said Spratt.

Climate watchers say what is desperately needed is political leadership worldwide to rein in C02-burning corporations and shift the global economic system to green technology.

Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told USA Today the technology for a carbon-free economic system is already in place.

“We’re not waiting for solutions. We’re simply waiting for political will to understand that the solutions are here. Clean energy is not a matter of waiting, it’s a matter of implementing,” said Patz.

But with US President Donald Trump, who denies human-induced climate change and oversees the world’s largest economy, there is ample reason for serious concern.

The winds of change are blowing, however, as climate change protest movements sprout up worldwide.

In the US, the world’s second largest CO2 emitter after China, presidential candidate Joe Biden announced a $5 trillion climate proposal on Tuesday as part of his campaign for 2020. The same day, Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr said he would launch a new hi-tech venture called the Footprint Coalition to combat climate change.

On Thursday, US billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would spend $500m in the “fight of our time” to move the US away from carbon energy.

Breakthrough’s paper stated “a massive global mobilisation” of resources was needed in the next decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system.

So can humanity save itself with the clock ticking down fast?

Admiral Chris Barrie – the former chief of Australia’s defence forces who wrote the foreword to Breakthrough’s paper – said human societies must act collectively to survive.

“A doomsday future is not inevitable, but without immediate drastic action, our prospects are poor.”

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