Unexpected summer rain in the last few days brought respite from the summer heat, especially welcome during the fasting month of Ramadan. But the unseasonal rainfall also damaged crops
Unexpected summer rain in the last few days brought respite from the summer heat, especially welcome during the fasting month of Ramadan. But the unseasonal rainfall also damaged crops and points towards larger concerns. Global warming and climatic changes are being felt in Afghanistan as elsewhere presaging a change in the fragile ecosystem that could have adverse effects.
Afghanistan has such a dry climate that most people don’t own umbrellas. Precipitation comes in the form of heavy snowfall during winter which seeps into the ground to recharge the water levels. But last winter saw little snow and Afghanistan’s traditionally dry summer has been broken by considerable rainfall. In some areas the temperature dropped down to 25 degrees centigrade, down by more than ten degrees.
“Rain has reduced the warm weather in the past few days and decreased the thirst (from fasting during Ramadan). At least this is something good”, says Mohammad Zahir, a 58 year-old man, echoing the feeling of most Afghans, all of whom observe the holy fast. But many are also aware of the negative impact of the rain as well.
Climate change and consequences
Experts are evaluating the changing weather pattern in the context of climatic changes and the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. “Climatic changes can have a big impact on weather and change it- an example was the recent rain in winter when there should have been snow and the cool temperature in the summer” says Dr. Abas Basir, the deputy head of policy and international relations in the National Environmental Protection Agency.
“Climatic change”, says Basir “is one of the rare issues that have a worldwide impact. Production of greenhouse gases in one part of the world has an impact on other areas because the gases enter the earth’s atmosphere. These gases are produced by activities which are fundamental to human commerce and lifestyles.”
Climatic change, says Basir, can change the amount of rainfall, the geography of a place by increasing and shrinking land and water ratios, cause an increase in the ocean level and result in storms and hurricanes and damage the eco system.
Sayeed Baktash, a 36 year-old man, is a contractor engaged in constructing buildings. While the unseasonal rain was a relief to him physically, it was bad for his business. “With the arrival of the rain I felt I could breathe fresh air” he said, but added that his construction materials suffered damage. “I bought some cement which was lying in the open in my work place. We were taken aback by the rain and a portion of the cement was damaged.”
The excess rainfall, says Dr. Basir, can cause problems of water retention in the soil. If the soil cannot absorb the water, this leads to erosion of soil and eventually floods, a recurring problem in Afghanistan.
The unseasonal drop in temperature can also be detrimental to health. Maimana, a 31-year old mother, says her child caught cold as a result of the wet and cold weather. Climatic changes cause diseases such as asthma and the change also impacts on the quality of drinking water, which can lead to many other water-borne diseases says Dr Basir. Dr. Mohammad Yahya Rezayee, Doctor of internal medicine and children’s diseases, confirms this.
The changes also have a direct bearing on agricultural production. Farmers in rural areas complain of the damage done to their crops. Mohammad Zahir who leases out his agricultural land explains that while he is personally comfortable with the colder weather, the impact of the rain on his lands has not been beneficial. “The farmer who is responsible for my lands informed me that rain in the season of harvest has damaged the crops, and some parts of my land are damaged by floods.”
“Climatic changes in Afghanistan have reduced production of wheat by 75%, rice production by 85%. The overall decrease in agricultural productivity is 10%. In addition the rain also damages forest areas” says Dr Basir. Damage to agricultural production is a reason for increasing migration to the cities, where the population has increased disproportionately, straining the urban infrastructure.
Responsibility of government
Dr. Basir says the government needs to take steps to check this climatic change. “The government should expand forests and prevent deforestation which leads to erosion and floods.” Currently, he says, the government comes into the picture only after the event, with disaster management committees and flood alleviation measures implemented through NGOs and others. The government is fighting the effect and not the cause he asserts.
NEPA, he says, has proposed planting pistachio forests and creating green spaces to reverse the environmental damage. NEPA itself has a $5 million dollar grant that will allow it to map the damaged areas and recommend action.
Rain is considered as God’s mercy in Afghanistan, a predominantly agricultural country. But as we see, sometimes, when it is not in season, it can cause quite a lot of damage.
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