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Afghanistan Initial National Communications (INC)

Submitted by UN Environment ... 31st March 2015 14:09
screen shot 2015-08-27 at 12 - climate adaptation.

Forest cover change, image from p. 16. 


The communication has been prepared involving all the key stakeholders in the multi-disciplinary study teams and through consultative process. The National Environmental Protection Agency of Afghanistan has coordinated this exercise. The communication not only describes Afghanistan's endeavors towards addressing the challenges of the climate change but also outlines its future strategies and planned activities. 

National Circumstances

Afghanistan is a landlocked, mountainous and very dry country in South and Central Asia with an area of 647,500 square kilometers and population of about 26 million. It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and the People's Republic of China in the far northeast. Afghanistan has an arid and semi-arid continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. The climate varies substantially from one region to another due to dramatic changes in topography. The wet season generally runs from winter through early spring, but the country on the whole is dry, falling within the Desert or Desert Steppe climate classification.

In theory, Afghanistan is not a water-scarce country, and possesses an estimated overall surface water availability of 2,775 cubic meters per capita per year. Nonetheless, it remains burdened by many constraints and the relatively significant amounts of water available in the country hide important variations within and across river and sub-river basins. The distribution of the available water does not always correspond with the location of the irrigable land and the settled populations. The availability of water in Afghanistan is characterized by considerable intra- and inter-annual variations. Further the country also has the lowest water storage capacity in the region.

Degradation of environmental quality and loss of resources presents one of the big challenges in the development of Afghanistan. Between 1990 and 2000, Afghanistan lost an average of 29,400 hectares of forest per year, to an average annual deforestation rate of 2.25% which further increased to 2.92% per annum between 2000 t0 2005. Forest now occupies less than 2% of county’s total area. Rangelands are being converted to rain-fed wheat production, exposing vast areas to wind and soil erosion. 

Impacts of Climate Change in Afghanistan

Climate change in Afghanistan will have severe consequences for socio-economic development. The vulnerability assessment of a potential seven different sectors revealed that water resources is the most vulnerable sector followed by forestry and rangeland, agriculture, health, biodiversity, energy and waste.

Water Resources: Climate change is leading to scarcer water resources in Afghanistan. Development efforts are struggling to keep up with the challenges. As mountains are the major sources of water, widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the twenty-first century, reducing water supplies and hydropower potential as well as changing the seasonality of flows in basins supplied by melt-water from snow and ice. Further, more rapid and earlier spring snow melt, creates risks of flash flooding. Any efforts by Afghanistan to increase its share of water use in the region may have additional regional security or diplomatic implications.

Agriculture: Drier conditions are predicted throughout Afghanistan, as well as annual temperature increase by between 2.8°C and 5°C. Both scenarios will have consequences for farmers relying exclusively on rain-fed agriculture, particularly farmers in the northern and western river basins, where more than 60 percent of the rain-fed land is located. Increased soil loss, reduced river flow from earlier snow melt, and less frequent rain during peak cultivation seasons will impact upon agricultural productivity and crop choice availability. Livestock numbers may be reduced by up to 50% during the periods of drought due to outward migration and starvation, reduced availability of animal feed, less funds available for livestock husbandry. By 2060, large parts of the agricultural economy will become marginal without significant investment in water management and irrigation.

Forest, Rangeland and Biodiversity: Climate change can impact enormously on forests and forest resources in Afghanistan with temperature changes. Warmer winters would imply reduced snow cover and less carryover of water to the growing season, leading to drought-induced forest decline. A combination of climate change with deforestation, land use change, habitat degradation and fragmentation presents a significant threat to biodiversity. Climate change can affect biodiversity either directly, by changing the physiological responses of species, or indirectly, by changing the relationships between species. This assessment, however, employs a general approach with no specification to clarify the impact of climate change to Afghanistan’s biodiversity, demanding more in-depth assessment in future.

Livelihood and Social Protection: Eradicating extreme hunger and poverty by 2020 is a GIRoA goal. The severity of climate change impacts depends not only on changes in temperature and precipitation patterns but on a host of other factors related to the various dimensions of poverty. According to the latest estimate, 36% of Afghanistan population lives below the poverty line, and are highly vulnerable to the climate risks as they are the most exposed with least means to adapt. A significant percentage of people (almost 20%) dependent on the agriculture economy live slightly above the poverty line and are extremely vulnerable to climate shocks so eradicating extreme hunger and poverty will be more challenging, widening the economic gap between rich and poor. Food security issues may be pronounced leading to malnutrition, high dependence on food aid, and reduced dietary diversity and consumption.

Human Health: Climate change will continue to impact upon the spread of food, water, and vector-borne diseases in Afghanistan. Climate change will undermine Afghanistan’s ability to achieve its goals in reducing malaria morbidity and mortality by 50% and 80% within the next 5 years. Women and children, mainly because they are not involved in paid income are also highly vulnerable to the climatic shocks.

Energy: Hydro power is a major source of energy for Afghanistan, and is particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate change. Changes in precipitation, accelerated mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover throughout the twenty-first century, siltation, increased demand of water for irrigation and drinking water purposes (upstream), reducing water supplies, changing the seasonality of flows in basins will all have direct impact on the availability of water for hydropower generation. Small hydro powers (HPP) and run-of-the-river types are particularly vulnerable as most are sensitive to variations in water flows. The predicted stronger flow peaks in winter and less flow in summer, could lead to forced closure of HPPs during both periods. In terms of large thermal power plant and transmission infrastructure, the main threat arises from damage caused by extreme climatic events, such as flash floods or storms.

Figure 3.2 from report: Trends in Precipitation (1960-2006) based on UNDP Climate Profile for Afghanistan

Constraints, gaps and related financial technical and capacity needs

In the process of developing INC of Afghanistan, Afghanistan has identified constraints and gaps associated with the preparation of the initial national communication as well as the needs to develop national capacity for the improvement of national communications on a continuous basis. As such a list of projects are identified for improving the quality of national GHG inventories, vulnerability assessment of various sectors at national and regional level and adaptation measures, assessment of mitigation potential with detailed cost-benefit analysis including exploring the opportunities for technology transfer, and enhancing the national capacities in doing climate change related research works with a systematic observation system in place, and making citizens more informed about the likely impacts of climate change and prepare with appropriate adaptations.

Significant work needs to be undertaken to ensure that capacity is built in all sectors of society to deal with climate change related issues and to utilize the opportunities provided by UNFCCC including investment opportunities through CDM and REDD+. Priority lists of projects identified in the process aim to enhance the future communication system of Afghanistan, and the country needs financial and technical support for the implementation.