When Taliban destroyed centuries old Bamiyan Buddha statues in 2001, terrorism was considered as the greatest threat to heritage and cultural sites, especially in Afghanistan. Since then nearly two decades have passed, many forests have vanished and environment has been degraded to unimaginable level. In these twenty years, new enemies to Afghanistan’s heritage sites have been created and today its neither the terrorists nor the thieves pose as great threat as the climate change does.
Though Bamiyan province lost some heritage treasures in 2001 and later due to thieves, the province still contains a network of caves housing temples, monasteries, and Buddhist paintings. The Bamiyan valley is also home to the silk-road era Shahr-e Gholghola fortress and the Shar-e Zohak citadel to the east.
Experts say that a pattern of dry spells followed by heavy rain, and larger than usual spring snowmelts is putting this historic art and architecture at risk of destruction.
Afghan officials warned in a 2016 United Nations report that the structures “may collapse and suffer from severe erosion” due to conditions directly linked to climate change.
According to some international archaeologists Afghanistan “is very fragile geologically, especially as vegetation cover has greatly diminished” due to deforestation.
But some people believe that though the erosion is increasing, the real danger comes from “human influence at the site”, including looters, who are rampant in Afghanistan. The Shar-e Gholghola Fortress and other key sites are now guarded to protect against such issues. The removal of landmines from the area has seen thousands visit in recent years, but the influx of recent visitors has done little to change the reality on the ground. Further, there is the problem of encroachment by some homeless people.
Meanwhile, its also true that mitigating the impacts of erosion and the effects of climate change would cost billions of dollars in Afghanistan, but the war-torn country has little ability to shoulder such a burden.
The Global Adaptation Initiative, run by the University of Notre Dame in the US, currently ranks Afghanistan 173 out of the 181 countries it scored in terms of a nation’s vulnerability to climate change and its ability to adapt.