Afghanistan Faces an Environmental Crisis

| January 9, 2002

Afghanistan Faces an Environmental Crisis

U.S. bombing, previous conflicts, and drought have destroyed Afghanistan's environment, prompting U.N. officials to launch an investigation next month, according to The New Scientist.

Much of southeast Afghanistan was covered by forests, reports Fred Pearce, but now less than 2 percent of the country is forested. While deforestation occurred mostly under Taliban rule, the country's refugee crisis led to damage as well. Trees were cut down for farming, which environmentalists say will have only short-term gains.

The refugee crisis also has provoked some to hunt rare snow leopards to buy safe passage across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Approximately 5,000 snow leopards exist in Central Asia, and less than 100 lived in Afghanistan before the conflict started this fall, according to Pearce. Timber, falcons, and medicinal plants also are reportedly being smuggled into Pakistan.

Other species' habitats -- like those of cranes, bears, gazelles, and sheep -- have come under attack from U.S. and Taliban bombing. 'The same terrain that allows fighters to strike and disappear back into the hills has also, historically, enabled wildlife to survive,' explains one environmentalist from the Wildlife Conservation Society.
--Kate Garsombke
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