Growing conflict in Afghanistan linked to ongoing climate change, experts say

Samim Hoshmand is believed to be in Scotland. He was going to tell the world how climate change is worsening war and conflict in his country, Afghanistan.

Instead, he is in exile as a refugee trying to get a visa in Tajikistan.

“Right now I’m waiting for a miracle to happen,” he told CBC radio Day 6.

Hoshmand was one of Afghanistan’s top environmental officials. Then the Taliban returned to power and he fled the country with nothing but the clothes he was wearing and a cell phone.

So instead of attending the COP26 climate conference, he will watch it from afar.

“I feel frustrated because my colleagues are coordinating meetings and I am really in pain, sitting here and there is nothing I can do,” he said. “There is no one to represent my country and my people. It is very difficult, honestly.”

The land of Hoshmand has been ravaged by decades of war and occupation. The Taliban regained control of the impoverished nation as Western troops withdrew this summer.

Samim Hoshmand was a climate negotiator for the Afghan government before the Taliban took over the country. (Submitted by Samim Hoshmand)

But he says you can’t talk about the situation in Afghanistan without acknowledging the role climate change has played in making a bad situation worse.

The drought has ruined the little available farmland. This has made the whole country more vulnerable to flash floods and other natural disasters. Poor peasants are dying of hunger. Some are said to have sold their daughters to arranged marriages.

“Climate change is not about natural disasters,” Hoshmand said. “It’s a social disaster. It means conflict, it means violence and it means the situation in Afghanistan, how everything has changed so quickly.”

LISTEN | Samim Hoshmand speaks with Day 6 host Peter Armstrong:

10:40Ongoing climate change-related conflict in Afghanistan escalates: former climate negotiator

Threat to lives and livelihoods

Alec Crawford specializes in this intersection of climate and conflict. He heads the program on environmental conflicts and peacebuilding at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Climate change, he says, is what military experts call a threat multiplier.

“Climate change in itself may not be the only driver of conflict,” he said.

But a changing climate can work against existing factors of conflict, such as history, poverty and ethnicity.

“And when that combines with those things, it can turn a tense situation towards violence,” Crawford said.

WATCH | Officials temper expectations ahead of COP26:

Officials temper expectations ahead of COP26

Ahead of the COP26 climate change summit in Scotland, some officials including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US Climate Representative John Kerry are tempering expectations about what will be achieved amid disagreements over what to do do and how fast. 2:10

And every year it gets worse and worse. Crawford says that too often people assume that climate change means beaches and hotels are overwhelmed by rising sea levels. But that misses the big picture, he said.

Slow-onset disasters such as drought open entire regions to a higher threat level when sudden disasters such as hurricanes or flash floods occur. An already vulnerable population can then be manipulated by armed groups.

“It might not be the hurricane or the drought,” he said. “But rather the violence that arises from these events, it is perhaps the [thing] that really threatens lives and livelihoods. “

For years, environmental activists have warned of this confluence of violence and climate change. Earlier this year, Sir David Attenborough told a United Nations conference that the world is at risk of escalating conflict. He described climate change as a “threat to our collective security and the security of our nations”.

In a letter to participants at the climate conference in Glasgow, the director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Robert Mardini, issued a stern warning.

“There is no doubt that people living in countries affected by conflict are among the most vulnerable to the climate crisis – globally,” Mardini wrote. “They are also the most neglected in terms of appropriate funding and support.”

This is why Hoshmand is so disappointed that he is not in Glasgow.

“At COP26, we wanted to raise our voices and raise the voice of other nations who are suffering like us,” he said.

The eyes of the world are on the conference. The impacts of climate change have never been clearer. Hoshmand hopes the world will heed the lessons learned in Afghanistan, Mali and Yemen, where climate and conflict are already deeply intertwined and making life difficult day by day.

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