The effects of Climate change and the implications for the health of local communities in Koh-e-Baba Mountains, central Afghanistan are not just theoretical problems for the women and families that inhabit this area. Poor health and poverty are exacerbated by environmental degradation and a reduction in the quality of ecosystem services, and climate change, by further damaging ecosystems, worsens this situation.
As witnessed by Conservation of Afghanistan Mountains (COAM, a community based natural resource management initiative established in 2010), the decline of natural resources, fuel sources, medicines from native plants and decreased soil fertility impact these communities daily. 80% of Afghanistan’s population live in semi-arid rural areas and experience effects of climate change that people in temperate developed countries need not yet think about. “30 years ago we walked outside our home for fuel, 20 years ago we had to go over there, now we have to buy fuel or spend half a day gathering enough to cook the evening meal.”
The impact of climate change on this area is very real to the women who live here. There is an increase in their daily work burden; the gathering of fuel, wild foods and medicinal plants is becoming more difficult; competition over limited resources, such as pasture lands and clean water, has increased; whilst land degradation leads to reductions in income. The main agricultural crops of potatoes and wheat reflect the diet of the local communities, but have limited potential to provide an income here. Land degradation, due to the cultivation of a low diversity of crop species and gathering fuel for inefficient stoves, causes an increase in natural hazards and disasters such as flooding, landslides and drought.
The Clean Cookstove and Natural Regeneration project was one of the first projects undertaken by COAM. It was supported by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Embassy of Finland and the Linda Norgrove foundation. The initiative has been welcomed by these communities and it works. The project is a package of interventions designed to build communities’ resilience to climate change; central to the project is the provision of new cleaner cookstoves to households. In this region the main cause of land degradation is from over harvesting of rangeland plants for fuel, and these clean cookstoves use half the fuel of traditional stoves, and because the stoves are installed with proper chimneys, they not only save lives, but drastically improve the quality of life of many women, who spend over 6 hours a day in smoky kitchens.
As part of the project, over 70,000 tree saplings have now been planted in the Koh-e-Baba, which act as a carbon sink and provide alternative sources of fodder, fuel, shelter, shade, building materials and income from sale of timber. It is hoped that this project will be scaled up to other areas of Afghanistan.
Women – especially those living in rural areas like the Koh-e-Baba and the central highlands of Afghanistan – often have a particularly deep understanding of local ecosystems, stemming from daily practical experience and motivated by a need to survive the harsh seasons. Women are also sensitive to ill-health around them, not only when it affects a child or a family member, but also when the environment is affected, and there is an intuitive understanding that the two are linked. Information provided by women can contribute greatly to the design of practical adaptation strategies. Valuable lessons can be learned from the grassroots level.
Written by Habiba Amiri and Amy Jennings