Snowless winter threatens Afghanistan with a grave agricultural crisis even as starvation spreads

Snowless winter threatens Afghanistan with a grave agricultural crisis even as starvation spreads

By Mayank Chhaya

As if Afghans do not have enough problems stemming from a highly repressive Taliban regime in Kabul, now they are facing an even greater existential challenge—a snowless winter.

For a country whose agriculture depends heavily on winter snow and rain and where, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), 15.8 million people are not consuming enough food, this is much graver threat than what the Taliban poses.

The WFP has said one out of three Afghans do not know where their next meal is coming from. “A humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions has grown even more complex and severe since the Taliban took control. Job losses, lack of cash and soaring prices are creating a new class of hungry people,” it said.

Hearing about these problems directly someone who lives in Kabul and has been a leading campaigner for women’s and children’s rights lends it even greater urgency. Mahbouba Seraj, 76, who has for decades led her campaign says no one of consequence is paying attention to the looming crisis because of a dry winter.

The impending crisis comes in the midst of the Taliban government tightening its stranglehold on Afghan women’s civil liberties with access to work, travel and health care being severely restricted if they are unmarried or without a male guardian, according to a United Nations report.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan or UNAMA’s report covers the period from October to December 2023 pointing out that the Taliban are cracking down on unmarried women and mahram or those who do not have a male guardian.

While Afghans suffer from draconian Taliban restrictions, there is already widespread starvation. A dry winter, a consequence of climate change, could be catastrophic.

“The winter in Kabul is non-existent,” Seraj told Indica News from Kabul. “We are in such a bad shape. On the mountains everywhere in Afghanistan there is no snow. I don’t know what we are going to do.”

“The effect on agriculture, on people, on water is going to be devastating. “I am very worried and lot of us are very worried,” she said. Asked if the Taliban government was aware of it, she said, “They are not aware of what is going on. I don’t think they really know the importance of it. They don’t know the devastation it will cause.”

Seraj said if the Taliban engaged with the women of Afghanistan, they could have addressed this problem since many women activists have been discussing it. However, given their antipathy towards women, it was not expected to happen.

Meanwhile, UNAMA continues to raise concerns over the treatment of Afghan women by the Taliban. It said it was “deeply concerned over recent arbitrary arrests and detentions of women and girls by Afghanistan’s de facto authorities because of alleged non-compliance with the Islamic dress code. Since 1 January, in Kabul and Daykundi provinces, UNAMA has documented a series of hijab decree enforcement campaigns by the de facto Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice and the de facto police. In the capital Kabul, large numbers of women and girls have been warned and detained. In Nili City of Daykundi province, women and girls have also been detained.”

“Enforcement measures involving physical violence are especially demeaning and dangerous for Afghan women and girls,” said Roza Otunbayeva, Special Representative of the Secretary General and head of UNAMA.

“Detentions carry an enormous stigma that put Afghan women at even greater risk. They also destroy public trust,” Otunbayeva said.

Seraj said the Taliban’s restrictions against unmarried women is especially bad for many young windows whose husbands have died during years of wars and violence in the country. She said a large number of them are in the grip of abject poverty and if such restrictions continued, they would perpetuate a cycle of creating generations of barely educated young women and therefore impoverishment.

UNAMA has estimated that $ 2.26 billion was required as of December 2023 to help some 29.2 million Afghans in need.

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