Forest on Terror – The environmental disaster in Afghanistan
Afghanistan may be facing a serious environmental crisis. Huge percentage of Afghanistan's land could be subject to soil erosion and desertification. Environmental issues in Afghanistan predate the political turmoil of the past few decades. Forests and wetlands have been depleted by centuries of grazing and farming, practices which have been increased by modern population growth. In Afghanistan, environmental conservation and economic concerns are not at odds; with 80% of the population dependent on herding or farming, the welfare of the environment is critical to the economic welfare of the people. The violence of the past twenty-five year has caused the destruction of 98% of Afghanistan's forests.
As forest cover decreases, the land becomes less productive, threatening the livelihood of the rural population. Loss of vegetation also creates a higher risk of floods, which not only endanger the people, but also cause soil erosion and decrease the amount of land available for agriculture. Currently, only 6% of the 15% of land in Afghanistan is usable and, if all the refugees are to return, problems of land ownership and adequacy of available land are inevitable. Many refugees who have already returned have found the rural areas too hard to survive. They have escaped again to big Afghan cities like Kabul or Masar-e-Sharif. Thus another disaster has started also in over-populated cities. People have problem to find jobs, there is a lack of water sources and poor hygiene.
New forest trees for new livelihoods
The forest trees should act as windbreak barriers to protect annual crops and prevent soil erosion where they are planted. They should also contribute to reduction of greenhouse gases, help decrease air pollution and increase rainfall in the region which should result in more productive land.
Even if we assume that this environmental degradation is not permanent, it is not easily reversible and it will require a major internationally supported recovery programme to be implemented. International organisations (such as USAid, the European Union and many others) try to collect resources and support many projects which may help by reforestation. New trees will help the people and animals settle down in areas which have without trees really low probability to keep agriculture production.