Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and over 120 are dead after flash floods swept through northern Afghanistan. The floods were triggered by days of sudden, heavy rain and have washed away roads and crops. Save the Children estimates that at least 1,000 homes have been destroyed and that 25,000 of the 40,000 people affected are children.
The Afghan National Army has been using helicopters to pluck stranded families from rooftops in the three provinces worst affected: Sari Pul, Zawzjan, Faryab and Badghis.
The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told Reuters that because of the remoteness of the region, it would take days before the full extent of the damage could be assessed. The number of missing individuals is currently unknown as is the extent of the damage to crops in a country where nearly 80 percent of people are dependent on subsistence agriculture and food security is a constant concern. Turkey has already sen food and medical supplies to aid in the recovery effort.
Afghanistan and surrounding areas are no strangers to the wild monsoon rains that strike South Asia every year. But in the past few years, these rains have become increasingly dangerous. Last August, over 180 people died in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan in flash floods. National Disaster Management Authority chief Muhammad Saeed Aleem publicly blamed climate change for the devastation. In 2010, the worst flooding in decades hit Pakistan in July claiming a staggering 1,700 lives as waters inundated about one fifth of the country.
The United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP) has identified Afghanistan as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. According to UNEP, since 1998, more than 6.7 million Afghans have been affected by natural disasters and extreme weather events. The country overall is getting hotter and drier. Rainfall has been decreasing by about 2 percent per decade since the 1960s while the mean annual temperature has risen by about 0.6°C since 1960. Afghanistan suffered a severe drought from 1998–2006 and another in 2008–09 and is currently battling yet another dry spell with serious consequences for food security. By the end of the century, the average temperature is expected to rise anywhere from 2°C and 6.2°C and rainfall will decrease by as much as 1.6 inches. In addition, Afghanistan’s overall water supply will be severely threatened by the rapid melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.
An increase in the intensity of rainfall in the area is predicted by current climate models. The ongoing drought is also increasing the chance of flash floods as dry, compacted soils are unable to quickly absorb precipitation.