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Glacial Melt Stokes Fears In Northeast Afghanistan

05 Jun 2019 Gandhara - RFE/RL

FAYZABAD, Afghanistan -- Melting glaciers in a remote Afghan province pose a major threat to the country’s water resources, climate, and economic prospects.

Ziaul Haq Kamran heads Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency in the northeastern mountainous province of Badakhshan. He says rising temperatures have already melted nearly half of the major glaciers in the region’s Pamir and Hindu Kush mountain ranges.

“Our glaciers are in a state of rapid daily decline because of the environmental changes we have witnessed,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We believe that some of our glaciers in the Wakhan and Karun Wa Munjan [districts] have shrunk by more than half.”

Abdul Wasiq Baseer, an environmental expert in Badakhshan, blames global warming for the region’s glacial melt. He says that if temperatures continue to rise, Badakhshan’s glaciers could completely disappear.

“Our people are very worried,” he said. “The melting glaciers have [in turn] resulted in a rapid increase in temperatures,” he added. “Even the regions where people had never faced heat are now turning hot [in summer].”

According to Afghanistan’s environmental protection agency, the landlocked country’s water resources -- mainly comprising freshwater rivers originating in glaciers, are most threatened by climate change. A steady water supply is necessary to sustain agriculture across Afghanistan, where many people’s livelihoods depend on raising livestock, which is also dependent on water.

The threat posed by the changes is compounded by the fact that natural forests across Afghanistan have shrunk considerably during nearly 40 years of war.

Farzad Hafizi, another environmental expert in Badakhshan, is urging the Afghan government and international organization to take immediate measures to halt the glacial melt.

“Our people have vivid memories of better summertime temperatures and pleasant weather,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

He argues that rising temperatures are changing the region’s ecosystems, which inevitably impacts all living creatures. “We need rapid forestation in our mountains to arrest these trends,” he said.

But Muhammad Zikria Sauda, the governor of Badakhshan, says rising temperatures have yet to radically alter the region’s mild summers.

However, he also says he is worried about the long-term impact of rising temperatures and disappearing glaciers.

“If unfortunately, our glaciers melt completely, it will be a major tragedy because it will lead to a chronic shortage of water, which will ruin agriculture and livestock,” he said.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Naimatullah Ahmadi’s reporting from Fayzabad, Badakhshan.

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