Ghoncha, who is eleven years old, carries washed dishes on her head. Every day she walks to a small canal about five hundred yards from her village. “When the water is murky and low in the canal because of extreme heat and drought, I have to wash my clothes several times and spend more time on washing clothes and dishes.” (Solmaz Daryani)

The Other Afghanistan

Images from beyond the battlefield

Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan twenty years ago, most of the Western discussion about the country has had to do with terrorism, security, and governance. Understandably, perhaps, much less attention has been given to the most pressing material needs of ordinary Afghans, especially food security, which is now being threatened as never before by climate change.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, Afghanistan is one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change—and, in particular, to droughts and floods. Very little of the $2 trillion spent by the United States in Afghanistan since 2001 has been used to help the country’s mostly rural population adapt to the changing conditions that affect their livelihood. In 2018, a drought forced 295,000 Afghans to abandon their homes in search of food and water. Families who could no longer support themselves on the land fled to camps of internally displaced people near big cities. Many of these families have pulled their daughters out of school and married them off in return for a “bride price.” The education of girls is imperiled not only by the Taliban but also by extreme poverty.

The following photos were taken in Bamyan Province in 2019, while the war was still raging. Now that the Taliban have regained control of Afghanistan and the United States and its allies have left, it remains to be seen how much foreign aid will reach the Afghans who need it most on land scarred by forty years of war and now threatened by global changes beyond their control.

Two boys bicycle past a burned-out Soviet tank on the side of a road in central Bamyan. Afghanistan has been at war for most of the past four decades.

A young boy rides a donkey carrying plastic drums of drinking water from a public water pipe thirty minutes away from his home. Because many Afghan houses have no running water, children are often sent for water several times a day. While the United States spent $2.26 trillion in Afghanistan during the war, less than $144 billion was spent on reconstruction.

Two brothers in Paymouri village try to save their muddy potato and wheat fields after a flash flood damaged crops and washed away animals. Climate change is expected to make floods and droughts much more frequent in the coming decades.

Zahra Ebad carries vegetables home with the help of her daughters. “We have a small wheat field in Surkh Darra village, but due to last year’s water crisis caused by drought, we couldn’t water the area, and our wheat fields dried out in the heat. My husband had to borrow money from a sibling to cultivate the field this year.” Surkh Darra is one of the regions hit hardest by drought, and many local families married off their underage daughters just to save them from hardship.

Two schoolgirls, on their way home from an English class, cover their faces as they walk through a sudden dust storm in Bamyan Valley. In the background is an empty niche where one of the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan statues once stood, before they were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. In recent years, Bamyan, located in Afghanistan’s central highlands, with steep mountain slopes, deep valleys, and harsh winters, has experienced weather extremes.

Thirteen-year-old Gol Chaman washes vegetables in the murky water from a local canal. Chaman lives in Laghman, a village in Bamyan Province. She has to run to the canal two or three times a day after school. When the water is low, she may have to wait in line for a long time before she can do her job. She says that she is sometimes so tired afterwards that she can no longer do her homework for school.

Afghan children wait for class to start at a girl’s high school in Bamyan Province. One-fifth of the students—several hundred girls—were pulled out of school by their families during the recent drought, according to the school’s director, Abdul Qayoon Afshar.

Published in the October 2021 issue: 

Solmaz Daryani is an Iranian documentary photographer based in Iran and the United Kingdom. She is a grantee of the Magnum Foundation, National Geographic Society, and a member of Women Photograph and Diversify Photo.

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