Sustainable Development in Afghanistan and the Global South

Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

Sustainable development is the only realistic model for future global development. Human impact on the environment has reached devastatingly dangerous heights, and many steps must be taken to mitigate and counter this impact. Undeniably, nations in the Global North must make these steps, and must also provide realistic support to nations in the Global South.

It is unfair for post-industrial nations in the Global North to demand nations in the Global South cut back on carbon emissions and other polluting behaviors when these developed nations have in the past and the present exploited developing nations in order to improve their own economies. Developing nations in the Global South are still impacted by businesses in the North taking advantage of cheaper labor and less strict regulations. While it is unfair and unrealistic to expect small nations in the Global South to restrict their development, it is important to realize that in the current global environment an economic future that is largely based on fossil fuels is not a stable future at all.

Steps should be made to support these countries in projects for sustainable economic development concurrently with large countries in the Global North taking steps to cut back emissions, consumption, and create sustainable behaviors. Many of the countries in the Global South have been environmentally ravaged by the economic and political influences of Northern countries. These countries are continually striving toward economic development in order to participate in the global market as nation states rather than commodities. Some countries are also attempting steps toward sustainable development as the only viable source for this economic development. An example of one of these countries can be found in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been affected by war and conflict for over thirty years, leading to severe environmental degradation—leaving little remaining forest or productive agricultural land (1)—and to Afghan people living to some of the lowest standards worldwide (2). While the economy has “improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001” (2), one of the largest exports is timber despite timber harvesting being illegal and despite forest coverage decreasing about 50 percent in approximately the past thirty to forty years (3). Other industries are receiving assistance from organizations such as USAID, which claims to be

working to increase job placements and wages for 31,000 Afghans, 35 percent of them women, through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and by facilitating access to credit and business development opportunities. (4)

Afghanistan has “an abundance of renewable energy possibilities — including wind, water and solar” (5) which, if provided economic assistance, could be developed in order to increase both economic productivity, but also Afghanistan’s autonomy as a nation state. Because of the country’s political and geographic climate, energy systems powered by fossil fuels would be difficult to build and maintain on a large scale, but with the development of smaller sustainable and renewable energy, communities could begin to have electricity and grow sustainably. This article goes a little more in depth on this and current projects in Afghanistan doing this work.

Many nations in the Global South, like Afghanistan, are moving toward sustainable modes of economic development, and if possible are attempting to mitigate the degradation already occurring to their local environment and ecosystems. Foreign aid to nations in the Global South should move toward helping these countries sustainably build their economies, and regain environmental health, and economic and political autonomy rather than stagnating at providing basic, immediate, ephemeral care which does nothing to address the systems requiring that aid to exist.

It is the responsibility of nations in the Global North to monitor their impact both in their nations and in nations elsewhere which they profit from, as well as to support these nations in their own development in order for everyone to have a sustainable, viable future.