Afghanistan, a mountainous country accustomed to very harsh winters, recorded almost no snowfall in mid-January, a new sign of the very strong impact of global warming on this Central Asian country.
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The exceptionally low rainfall in this agricultural country has caused farmers to postpone sowing.
“In January, like previous years, we had a lot of rain and snow,” Rohullah Amin, an official at NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Agency, told AFP. But “we don’t have enough or nothing at all. (…) We are very concerned, severe droughts can make people's lives more difficult (…) and affect the economy.
Members of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) flew over the country a few days ago, from Helmand province (south) to Kabul.
“There is no snow at all on the mountains,” FAO spokesman Robert Kluijver told AFP. “This is very serious.”
“In the south-west, farmers are most affected by the drought, then in the south. The north is experiencing a semi-drought,” explains Mr Amin.
Only a few centimeters of snow recently fell in the provinces of Ghazni and Paktika (central east). The mountainous province of Badakshan (Northeast) has just received its first snowflakes.
“Soils too dry”
Kabul has not seen snow yet, which is a month and a half late.
In the west of the Hindu Kouch massif, the Salang Pass (3,800 meters) was barely covered in snow a few days ago, an AFP journalist noted – a grievance in mid-January.
Last December, “Namaz-e Istisqa”, prayers for rain, were organized in rural areas by religious people across the country in the provinces of Herat (west), Balkh (north), Kandahar (south) and Panjshir (centre).
While waiting for snow or rain, many farmers did not plant as planned in October or November.
“We still haven’t sown. If this continues, we will be paralyzed,” laments Nazeer Ahmad, a 25-year-old farmer interviewed by AFP in Herat, Karukh district. “Everyone is waiting for rainfall (but) if it doesn’t rain within 10 or 15 days, we won’t be able to sow wheat because the ground will be too dry.”
But Afghan meteorologists are predicting no precipitation for the next two weeks.
“If the Islamic Emirate (Afghanistan) does not take care of the farmers, we will be forced to emigrate to other countries such as Iran due to lack of income,” fears the young farmer.
“It went badly”
For the FAO spokesman, “we will not be able to say whether the crops will be lost or not until mid-February.” “At the moment we can simply say that things are off to a bad start,” says Mr. Kluijver.
It is mainly wheat, which makes up 66% of the Afghans' calorie rations.
“Typically the winter wheat harvest occurs in April and May, and the longer you wait, the lower the yields will be,” he warns. But “if it starts snowing in early February, we will be able to have lower yielding crops but still agricultural activity.”
Experts had predicted that it would snow in December. “High temperatures and lack of rainfall are clearly an impact of climate change,” adds Mr. Kluijver, for whom “it is clear that Afghanistan is one of the most affected countries” on the planet.
It is the lack of snow rather than rain that is worrying this country, which is already experiencing its third year of drought. Because snow stays on the ground longer and feeds the groundwater.
In winter, we should normally “be able to extract snow cover (from the mountains) to use water at the beginning of summer, especially in agriculture,” says Mr. Amin.
Rain falls mainly in spring.
But in Afghanistan it rains less and “when there is rain, it is rain that washes away the fertile soil layer and causes damage,” said the FAO spokesman.