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Taliban and ‘natural’ disasters

On Friday, floods wreaked havoc across northern Afghanistan. More than 300 people have died and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Untold amounts of agricultural land and livestock have been destroyed. Entire communities have been left with nothing. 

Such disasters have become commonplace in Afghanistan. The devastation that comes with spring and summer floods has become a seasonal occurrence. Communities of the most vulnerable are destroyed, partially rebuilt, and destroyed again by recurrent floods, mudslides, and earthquakes. Each year, the death toll grows and families plunge deeper into poverty. Before this recent flooding, 13,000 people had already been affected by natural disasters in the first three months of 2024.  

The people of Afghanistan are particularly vulnerable to such calamities because the country is extremely ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with disasters. War, statelessness, lack of regulation, decades of deforestation, and overexploitation of resources have left the country woefully vulnerable and unable to cope with disasters. 

It should clearly be acknowledged that these disasters are not purely “natural disasters.” In Afghanistan, these tragedies are human-made on two levels: first, the spring rains turn into devastating floods as a direct consequence of deforestation and overexploitation of resources; and second, their impact is intensified as a direct consequence of the failure to properly manage water resources. 

Afghanistan is a country in the grips of repeated floods and droughts because rain waters aren’t properly contained and channelled. With preparation and scientific management, such extreme events can be reduced in their effect or prevented altogether. 

For that to happen, Afghanistan needs a political system that makes plans and policies in all areas, including disaster management and risk mitigation based on scientific methods and research. The country needs a system of government that is responsive to the needs of the people and society’s material and social well-being. 

In a time of calamitous environmental disasters, Afghanistan is ruled by a regime whose priority is not people’s material and social welfare. Recently, the Taliban minister of higher education bragged that the Taliban’s is the only government in the world that cares about people’s afterlife: “The Islamic Emirate is the only system in the world that cares that Muslims don’t face difficulty on the Sirat bridge so that they do not face trouble in their graves.” The principal responsibility of a government in the Taliban ideology is to ensure that people are performing and not slack in their religious rituals.

With the Taliban’s zeal to ensure people’s salvation in the afterlife, they have literally created a hell on earth, leaving the people of Afghanistan far more vulnerable to weather events and other calamities.    

The Taliban’s anti-science fundamentalist beliefs make them the worst people to manage and respond to the recurrent disasters that are hitting Afghanistan. Their understanding of these crises is steeped in mystification; they view disasters as both divine and inevitable. In the long run, their continued domination of the government in Afghanistan will be far more devastating to the country’s prospects of developing resilience to such disasters.  

Moreover, in the absence of a responsible and effective state, disaster-affected regions are left to fend for themselves or become prey to profiteers of human misery. In a country on the verge of economic collapse, where half of its population is banned from work because of their gender, where impunity for violence against women, child marriage, and the sale of children was already widespread, the recent series of floods and other crises is going to worsen the already fragile situation in affected communities.

The impact of the Taliban’s misogynist policies and system of gender apartheid is also disproportionately affecting women and children in the storm-ravaged areas of Afghanistan. Already, there are reports that hospitals and communities are struggling to find women volunteers for treatment or the burials of female victims. 

Past reports by journalists and international agencies suggest that the Taliban are always pilfering aid for personal gains and are systematically trying to exert influence and control over aid distribution for their own political and factional interests. In other words, they are exploiting people’s misery for propaganda purposes and political gain.  

The utter lack of planning and preparations that make our people extremely vulnerable to disasters must be a wake-up call. To meet the political, social, and environmental challenges of our epoch, Afghanistan needs a political system that prioritizes people’s material and social well-being. Today, Afghanistan has a government that is focused on the salvation of the dead, rather than caring about the living.