Climate change and human mobility: Displacement in Afghanistan

Iran Review|Saideh Saidi: “Climate refuges” become popular in recent years due to massive outflows of displaced people across the globe. There is a forecast varied from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050 (UNIC 201). However, it is not a justifiable reason for many countries to give an asylum to applicants and only few countries like Sweden and Finland give partial protection based on humanitarian considerations to environmental migrants. Within the scope of this paper, I want to examine the role of climate hardship in regards to prolonged patterns of displacement in Afghanistan.

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a largely rugged mountainous terrain at the crossroads of Asia located in south-western Asia on the Iranian Plateau which belong to greater Middle East and Central Asia. It covers an area of 647,500 square kilometers. It is enveloped by Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to the north, the Hindu Kush Mountains run from the eastern border with China and India on east, the longest stretching border is with Pakistan on the south with 2430 square kilometers and the long and porous boundary with Islamic Republic of Iran is roughly around 940 kilometers on the west.

Migration is a life event and mobility has been an essential part of Afghan history and Afghanistan has been the focus for greatest and most complex refugee crisis in the modern history and according to official reports 76 per cent have had some experience of displacement in their lifetime (ICRC 2009). Afghanistan was formally established as a state in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, is one of the poorest countries in the world and with decades of international and civil war, consecutive years of drought, prolonged political unrests and poverty which spread Afghan refugees all over the world. Afghan people have historically been moving, in group and in person, legally and illegally in the region and beyond.

Afghanistan is among those countries most threaten by climate change (UNDP 2016 It has a continental, an arid to semiarid climate which is characterized by steppe and desert and limited rainfall with cold winter and hot summers which led to several droughts over the years (Karimi 2014). Its climate characteristics contributed to more frequent natural disasters like flooding, drought and lack of water which is caused in a massive internally displaced people. Rural Afghans especially male member of the family have had to adapt their livelihood strategies to deal with the impact of natural disasters such as drought (Stigter & Monsutti 2005). It also caused massive increase in Kuchi (nomads) inside Afghanistan in search of basic livelihood. The large part of Afghanistan is subject to soil erosion. Nearly three quarters of the country is covered by mountains with little or no vegetation. No doubt Afghan topography and harsh climate condition greatly impact on prolonged out-migration and social mobility and internal displacement. Although UNHCR with a collaboration with other INGOs and public donors create temporary shelters for thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs), but it is not sufficient and is a great motivation for further outflows.

Number of IDPs increased significantly in 2016 to 1.2 million. According to latest reports, the western region (with 220,434 persons) and the southern region (with 223,278 persons) have the largest IDPs population in Afghanistan. It is noteworthy to understand Iran has a long-shared border with these two region which is an available destination for further emigration for many Afghan IDPs; therefore, a considerable share has crossed the border to Iran and Pakistan. In fact, the distance between borders posts make border control a difficult task and most of Afghan refugees all over the globe have been passed through Afghanistan’s border with these two countries. Iran is one of the main destination for millions of Afghans in the past four decades due to geographic proximity, religious, linguistic and cultural similarities. More than 950,000 legal immigrants and around 2 million undocumented Afghans reside in Iran which have an important impact on the Iranian society in terms of financial, social and cultural stability.

Many Afghan displaced because of their conflict ravaged and impoverished homeland to find a secure place to live. Definitive number of Afghans forced into displacement due to climate harsh situation in their homeland, such as the severity of the continuing of drought, water and food shortage, lack of shelter and health care. Therefore, displacement and movement both within and across the border is a livelihood strategy for many Afghans over the years and many Afghans (especially young men) heading to neighboring countries to work and earn money and send remittance to the remaining family members.

Disasters brought on by natural hazards continue to cause people to flee their homes and the number of climate displaced people in Afghanistan will inevitably rise which become a protracted issue in the coming years which need to coordinate long-term humanitarian responses both in Afghanistan and also host countries in order to implement and facilitate durable solutions.

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review’s viewpoints.