Sun, Sep 22, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Protected by troops, Afghan youth march against climate change in polluted Kabul


Young people attend a climate strike rally as Afghan security forces guard them in Kabul on Friday.

Photo: AP

Worried that if war does not kill them, climate change will, about 100 young Afghans on Friday marched to protest climate change. They were guarded by troops atop an armored personnel carrier and on foot, rifles at the ready.

Protesters risked a march through the center of the capital, Kabul, despite nearly daily attacks by insurgents, to participate in a global strike against climate change.

Although it resembles a city under siege in most parts, Kabul is also among the worst polluted cities in the world.

Fardeen Barakzai, one of the organizers and the head of a local climate action group called Oxygen, said that Afghanistan’s youth want to do their part in the fight against global warming and want to be counted among those who heeded teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future Movement.

“The goal is that we should have the same voice, like the other countries that are working for climate,” said Barakzai as he slapped posters on a motorcycle rickshaw outfitted with a loudspeaker to make sure Kabul residents understood their message.

“We know war can kill a group of people, but climate can kill everyone,” he said.

Kabul has been shattered by four decades of war and decaying infrastructure, despite billions of dollars in international aid that came into Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban government in 2001.

However, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health says that more than 3,000 people die each year of pollution-induced illnesses in Kabul and more than 70 percent of patients in hospitals are suffering from respiratory-related illnesses. Most of these can be traced to the air pollution that is particularly bad during the dry winters.

“Away from the glare of publicity, Afghans — and in particular Kabul’s 6 million residents — are wrestling with another silent but deadly killer: air pollution,” said the UN Environment Program in a report released earlier this year.

The report quoted the Afghan National Environment Protection Agency as saying: “With an increase in air pollution, we are seeing a new generation whose growth is stunted.”

Barakzai, who says he is 23 years old “according to stories my mother tells me,” said climate change poses the greatest challenge.

“We aren’t afraid from the war, we are more afraid from the climate change, that is why we want to give our whole energy to go against climate change,” he said.

Watching from the street as the protesters marched passed waving their “stopping pollution is the best solution” posters, an elderly Hajji Abdul Razak Wahabzada said the marchers made him proud. He said he admires their bravery while marching down the street in Kabul, but also that as young people they have the education and knowledge to consider the effect of climate change.

“They are our young generation and they are not thinking about the gun. They are not thinking about war, they are thinking about making our country better,” he said.

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