Rising conflict in Afghanistan related to ongoing climate change, experts say

Our planet is changing. It’s our journalism too. This story is part of a CBC News initiative titled Our changing planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about them.


Samim Hoshmand is believed to be in Scotland. He was to tell the world how climate change is making war and conflict worse 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 swept back 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 see it from a distance.

“I feel frustrated because my colleagues are coordinating the meetings and I really suffer, sit here and can do nothing,” he said. “There is no one there to represent my country and my people. It is very difficult, to be honest.”

Hoshmand’s country has been hit by decades of war and occupation. The Taliban regained control of the poor nation as Western troops withdrew this summer.

Samim Hoshmand was a climate negotiator for the Afghan government before the Taliban seized the country. (Posted by Samim Hoshmand)

But he says one cannot talk about the situation in Afghanistan without acknowledging the role that climate change has played in making a bad situation worse.

The drought has devastated the small farmland that was available. It has made the whole country more susceptible to floods and other natural disasters. Poor farmers are starving. Some have reportedly sold 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 changed quickly.”

LYT | Samim Hoshmand talks to Day 6 host Peter Armstrong:

10:40Rising conflict in Afghanistan related to ongoing climate change: former climate negotiator

Threatens life and livelihood

That intersection between climate and conflict is what Alec Crawford specializes in. He is the leader of the Environmental Conflict and Peacebuilding Program 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 play up against existing conflict drivers, such as history, poverty and ethnicity.

“And when combined with these things, it can tip a tense situation in the direction of violence,” Crawford said.

SE | Officials dampen expectations ahead of COP26:

Officials dampen expectations ahead of COP26

Ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Scotland, some officials, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US climate representative John Kerry, are dampening expectations about what will be achieved due to disagreement over what to do and how quickly. 2:10

And every year it gets worse. Crawford says people all too often assume that climate change means beaches and hotels are being flooded by rising sea levels. But the bigger picture is missing, he said.

Slow disasters such as droughts open entire regions to a higher level of threat when sudden disasters such as hurricanes or lightning floods strike. Then an already vulnerable population can be manipulated by armed groups.

“It may not be the hurricane or the drought,” he said. “But rather the violence that comes out of the events it can be [thing] that really threatens life and livelihood. “

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

In a letter to the participants at the Glasgow Climate Conference, 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 conflict-affected countries are among the most vulnerable to the climate crisis – globally,” Mardini wrote. “They are also the ones who are most neglected in terms of adequate funding and support.”

That’s why Hoshmand is so disappointed that he does not want to be in Glasgow.

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

The eyes of the world are on the conference. The effects of climate change have never been clearer. Hoshmand hopes the world will listen to the experiences of Afghanistan, Mali and Yemen, where climate and conflict are already deeply intertwined, making a difficult life more difficult every day.

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