The Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan will also have environmental consequences

The Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan will also have environmental consequences

In addition to the fundamental humanitarian drama, political instability, conflicts and closure from the international community could put an end to an already inadequate plan to protect Afghan natural resources and biodiversity

(photo: Ej Wolfson / Unsplash) Faced with the advance of the Taliban, the disorderly flight from Kabul of the diplomatic staff and the human drama that has been taking place in recent days affecting the Afghan population, the thought certainly does not immediately turn to the environment, sustainability and the protection of the country's plant and animal species. Yet even from this point of view the abrupt change in power we are witnessing could have important effects, and not in a positive way.

The necessary premise is that not even during the previous government, led by President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the situation was rosy, but in the last fifteen years there had nevertheless been a gradual increase in attention to environmental issues. A slow but positive trend, built on the basis of premises - such as international collaboration at the design and academic level, political stability, the spread of culture, the absence of civil conflicts - which at the moment seem to have quickly faded away. So much so that, at least according to what various technical-scientific reports drawn up in recent years have concluded, now the path towards the enhancement of biodiversity and respect for nature appears decidedly uphill.

Mini-history of Afghan environmental science

The last period of flourishing research on biodiversity in Afghanistan dates back to almost half a century ago, in the early 1970s, just before a very long (and in fact never really ended) period of political instability and internal conflict began. Even if then from the scientific point of view it was in step with the times, in recent decades, as is known, the techniques of analysis and study and also the collective attention to the topic have made enormous progress all over the world, while Afghanistan is lagged further and further behind.

Even in the early 2000s, with the war, the situation worsened, so much so that until 2008 there was not even a national park in the country. A significant step was the establishment in 2005 of the National Environment Protection Agency (Nepa), with the arrival in 2007 of a law to protect the environment. And in 2008, almost simultaneously with the establishment of the first national park, a first in-depth report of the biodiversity profile in the country was also published, with the collaboration of the UN and the drafting of a list of endangered species in black and white (2009) and a series of post-conflict strategies.

Among these, as documented by a letter recently published in the scientific journal Science, the establishment of an ever-increasing number of protected areas, cooperation with universities and organizations international, the training and awareness of the local population, the creation or modernization of natural history museums, the identification of new species and the cataloging of all those present in the country, with particular attention to plants and animals at risk of extinction . To date, there are dozens of protected areas or areas under assessment in the country.

Beyond scientific research

It is no coincidence that many of the world conflicts of the last seventy years took place in areas considered global hotspots for biodiversity and - even if formally Afghanistan is not yet one of these - there is no doubt that the Afghan mountains are rich in diversity and life. Indeed, there is probably an insufficient amount of studies completed in the area at the basis of this lack of recognition, given that due to its morphological, climatic and landscape characteristics, the country could be among the most precious reserves of life on the planet. Thanks to the enormous variety of habitats, in fact, Afghanistan is considered one of the points of origin of all Asian biodiversity, a fundamental link for understanding the history of the evolution of life on Earth.

Beyond of the lack of strictly scientific and research actions in favor of the protection of biodiversity, the presence of a conflict is in itself a reason for the depletion of natural resources. Widespread poverty, the spasmodic search for food and the impossibility of making medium-long term projects are in fact at the basis of phenomena such as deforestation and illegal or completely unregulated hunting, not to mention an agriculture that aims to get the most out of it in a short time regardless of what it leaves behind. The lack of agricultural skills, the scarcity of tools and means and the lack of awareness of how vital it is to save biodiversity reserves have also been indicated by the Afghan universities themselves as the underlying reasons for an ecological disaster that has been going on for decades, only in part. reduced over the decade.

Stopping the progressive loss of biodiversity and the creation of a sustainable agricultural model are considered two essential priorities for Afghanistan to achieve food self-sufficiency. To date, about 4 out of 5 Afghans live on agriculture, in most cases cultivating tiny plots of less than one hectare in size. And crops that are anything but abundant are joined by food security problems, due to poor conservation and lack of infrastructure.

What is known about Afghan biodiversity

As anticipated, one of the main problems in the protection of biodiversity in the country is that we do not even know how to quantify the number of species present. According to the United Nations Environmental Program (Unep), as of 2008 there were about 150 mammals, 500 bird species, a hundred reptiles, over a hundred fish and more than 200 species of butterflies. However, this number has remained essentially unchanged since 1978, and the cataloging is believed to be inaccurate as well as partial. However, among the best known species there are the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) and Marco Polo's sheep (Ovis ammon polii), which are among the most threatened as they are hunted and poached, as well as the mountain salamander (Paradactylodon mustersi). endangered by the human invasion of all ecosystems. On the vegetable front, on the other hand, the pistachio and juniper woods are first of all at risk, already decimated by deforestation and an increase in desertification.

Many of the Afghan mountains and forests, however, remain virtually unexplored by the community scientific, so much so that it is believed that all numbers are clear underestimates.

Taliban perspectives

Even if today's Taliban are the children and grandchildren of those in power in the 1990s , the environmentalist tradition of the Islamic extremist regime is not the best. As long as they were at the helm of the country, in fact, the jurisdictional and military centralization was never matched with control of agricultural, breeding and hunting activities, so much so as to break all rules and allow unbridled hunting of large mammals and birds ( until the complete elimination of species), the clearing of forests to obtain agricultural land and even the use of military firearms for hunting.

In a broader sense, then, the closure towards the West and in general towards all the other countries of the world, the opposition to the forms of sharing and collaboration that are the basis of scientific research, the probable lack of propensity to stimulate cultural initiatives in the scientific field and the traditional Taliban inattention to environmental issues , suggest that the "search for biodiversity in a changing Afghanistan" cited by Science at the end of last June is destined to remain little p more than a mirage.

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