located in central Asia, with no maritime borders, Afghanistan covers a land area of 251,772 sq. mi. (647,500 sq. km.) and has a population of 31,889,923. It has a population density of 119 people per sq. mi. (46 per sq. km.). About 12 percent of the country is arable land, with 46 percent of the land area being used as meadow or pasture. Only three percent of the country is forested. Officially some 80 percent of the population make a living from agriculture.
At war since the late 1970s, there are numerous environmental problems facing Afghanistan, especially involving unexploded ordnance and a poor infrastructure. Parts of Afghanistan have faced severe shortages of food, alleviated by foreign aid, initially from the Soviet Union, later from parts of the Islamic world, and from the West, which supports the government of President Hamid Karzai. There have also been campaigns to eradicate the production of opium poppy and cannabis, with attempts to substitute the planting of food crops.
The arid countryside and resulting low level of agricultural production has been highlighted as a serious problem for Afghanistan, with the rising global temperature likely to lead to further declines in farming. Since fighting began in 1978, Afghanistan has lost over 70 percent of its forests, leading to soil erosion, a decline in soil fertility, and a rise in salinization. In addition, a dramatic fall in water tables has affected the electricity production in the country, 64 percent of which comes from hydropower, with the remaining 36 percent from fossil fuels. One important hydroelectric plant is located at Sarobi on the Kabul River, and provides much of the power for the capital. Prior to the use of hydropower, there was heavy reliance on wind power, with "horizontal" windmills located on the tops of buildings between Herat and the Iranian frontier from as early as the 7th century c.E. These windmills were primarily used to grind grain. The sulfur industry operates around the city of Maimana in the northwest of the country, and a small oil industry exists near Herat in the west of Afghanistan.
In 2001, Afghanistan recorded the warmest winter on record, with crop production decreasing. The Afghan refugee crisis, created by the war, continues, with many people unable to subsist in their villages. Because the country is so underdeveloped, it has one of the lowest carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the world, with 0.2 metric tons per capita in 1990 falling to negligible levels in 1997, and in 2007 was estimated to be 0.03 metric tons per capita, with only Chad and Somalia recording lower levels.
The Afghan government took part in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change signed in Rio de Janeiro in May 1992, which took place less than a month after the overthrow of the pro-Russian president, Mohammad Najibullah. Under the Taliban government, there was little participation in any of the international forums, and the government of President Hamid Karzai has not expressed an opinion on the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
sEE ALso: Agriculture; Deforestation; Desertification; Developing Countries.
BIBLIoGRAPHY. Ali Azimi and David McCauley, Afghanistan's Environment in Transition (Asian Development Bank, 2003); Klaus Ferdinand, "The Horizontal Wind mills of Western Afghanistan," Folk, Dansk Etnografisk Tidsskrift (v.5, 1963; v.8-9, 1966-67); Richard Mackenzie, "Afghanistan's Uneasy Peace," National Geographic (v.184/4, 1993).
JUSTIN CORFIELD Geelong Grammar School, Australia
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