by David Hetherington
More people die of air pollution in Kabul every year than as a result of the violence in Afghanistan, according to figures released by various agencies. The Afghan National Environmental Protection Agency estimates as many as 3000 people die every year as a result of air pollution in Kabul alone, while the United Nations says that 2,777 civilians were killed in the war across the whole of Afghanistan in 2010.
With Afghanistan as volatile as it is, ‘the last thing on people’s minds here is the air quality and the environment.’ Deputy director of the Afghanistan National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) Najibullah Yamin’s words summarise what appears to be an insurmountable problem. The myriad environmental issues Kabul faces have combined to create something of a perfect storm for air pollution. An inadequate public transport system forces many to buy cars that are e old and produce a great deal of smoke. In some cases plastic and other garbage is burned as a fuel source. To make matters worse, the bowl-like landscape of Kabul, with its mountains surrounding the city, acts to trap pollution and many accuse a ‘land mafia’ of buying up areas meant for environmental renewal to develop houses and commercial buildings.
Director General of Afghan Geological Society Atiq Sediqi says because deaths from pollution are not visible ‘does not make any splash in the media’. Sediqi believes the most important obstacles are a combination of poor quality fuels, very dusty roads, trees and bushes being cut down en masse and the unique shape of the landscape. In particular he pinpoints Kabul’s roads saying that they need to be paved to avoid the massive amounts of dust kicked up from them. Trees and shrubberies also need to be replanted and there needs to be a drive towards ‘public education on environmental issues through media’ if Kabul is to see any sort of lasting change. It could take 5 to 10 years before the rate of death by air pollution drops and that’s only if the implementations Sediqi recommends are put into effect.
Sediqi is hopeful that Kabul’s mayor, Muhammad Younus Nawandish, can reduce air pollution if he stays in power thanks to his policies concerning road maintenance and a drive to replant trees but a lack of public awareness lies at the heart of the issue. As Sediqi puts it, ‘the government should realize that the worst enemy of Afghanistan is air pollution, not the Taliban.’