This month Afghanistan celebrated Nawroz, or the New Year. The event is also celebrated in Iran and Central Asia and coincides with the arrival of spring.
In Afghanistan, a nation-wide tree plantation drive has kicked-off to welcome the new season.
Shadi Khan Saif reports from the capital Kabul on what it means for climate change and food security.
Nawroz literally means a new day, and here in the studios of one of Kabul’s most popular radio stations, the hosts are marking the festivities with a selection of songs, especially sung for the very day.
Across the country the day is marked by festivals of flowers, music and dance.
Out of the warm and cozy radio studio, the climate is much different elsewhere in the country.
There was a strong chill in Kabul on the first day of spring, and this year, the winter has dragged on for longer than usual.
Environmentalist Muntazir Shah believes it is a hallmark of climate change in Afghanistan.
“There is absolutely no denial that climate change is taking place here,” explains Shah, “And unfortunately Afghanistan seems be on the losing end of it.”
Afghanistan relies heavily on snow and rain for irrigation, but rain has been scarce this year.
That and decades of war have dismantled much of the centuries’ old “Karez” system – an ancient network of underground irrigation canals.
Farmers in the countryside are fear a drought is underway.
Nasrullah Khan farms wheat in Logar, east of Kabul, but he fears the already low underground water will drop further given the shortage of rain.
“This is going to affect the yield of grains, vegetables and fruits in a big way,” he says, “I think a drought-like situation will surround us, and the government should put in place measures.”
The last time there was significant snowfall was four years ago.
The snow and glaciers in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya mountains are a large source of freshwater, providing the basis for livelihood for an estimated 210 million people.
Worryingly, research indicates the region has seen temperatures rise faster than the global average.
One way the government is addressing the situation is with a nationwide tree plantation drive, which has kicked off across Afghanistan.
People are buying fresh tree samplings, of fruit and poplar trees from roadside vendors like this one and planting them in their backyards, gardens and on street corners.
Mohammad Rafiq has brought a number of samplings from his garden in the north of the country to sell in the capital Kabul.
“I have all sorts of flowers and fruit plants for sale here, you see if each and every citizen of the country just plants one tree, Afghanistan would turn lush green and there would be no dust or drought,” he says.
Over decades, hundreds of thousands of trees in Afghanistan were destroyed by the ravages of war, and illegal loggers smuggling wood across the border to Pakistan.
The United Nations estimates that some provinces have lost more than half their woodlands through illegal logging over the past 25 years.
The National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA) however, is happy that things are improving for good, thanks to the relative peace now.
Kazim Humayon is a senior officer at the National Environment Protection Agency.
“It is very positive to see people of all ages are now aware of it and planting more and more trees,” he says, “The vast area of forests can not only curb the various forms of pollution it is beneficial in various ways, we need to plant more and more trees to fight climate change.”
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