Educated Afghan women offer economic resilience in the face of climate change and conflict

September 1, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


JUDY WOODRUFF: The “NewsHour” has covered
conflict in Afghanistan for many years, but there is another crisis creating nearly as
many problems, climate change. It has led to epic droughts and has forced
already desperate Afghan people toward desperate measures. One surprising factor in helping stave off
the after-effects of drought, education for girls. Special correspondent Beth Murphy of the nonprofit
GroundTruth Reporting Project has covered those efforts to improve girls education for
years, and tonight looks at the difference between — that teaching girls is making. BETH MURPHY: Drought is drying up farms across
Afghanistan, cracking the earth and threatening the only way of life the majority of the country
has ever known. This community outside Kabul city is called
Green Village. It was once the breadbasket of the region,
but today the name rings hollow. HAFFIZULLAH AZAMI, Farmer (through translator):
The drought is upon us, beyond our control. We cannot do anything about it. Our crops are becoming smaller every year. Maybe, this year, there will be more drought
because there hasn’t been any rain. Our river is dry. BETH MURPHY: Farmers like Haffizullah Azami
have been hit again and again over the past three decades with droughts. They have become longer and more intense,
making Afghanistan one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Haffizullah’s daughter Wazeela remembers all
the times her dad struggled to make money and feed the family. WAZEELA, Teacher (through translator): When
my father came home, he was very unhappy. So that made us all unhappy. He didn’t have enough money to cover our expenses. And when we didn’t have enough food to eat,
he was really miserable. BETH MURPHY: Haffizullah’s grape field may
not look like a battlefield, but this is where a new war in Afghanistan is being waged, with
farmers caught between two forces they can’t control, climate change and terrorism. DAUD RAHIMI, United Nations Development Program:
So this is the negotiation with the community people. Daud Rahimi is with the United Nations Development
Program. He’s helping to oversee a $71 million program
to protect Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities from the worst impacts of climate change. DAUD RAHIMI: Climate change is a multiplier,
a threat multiplier, one of which is the recruitment of young people by insurgent groups. BETH MURPHY: That insurgency is bankrolled
by the drug trade, specifically opium poppy, which is heavily controlled by violent Taliban
extremists, who are now openly operating in 70 percent of the country, reversing the gains
of America’s longest war. In this Taliban-controlled area on the Pakistan
border, farmers are spreading the seeds of what will become heroin. MAN (through translator): We have very little
land and big families. So we are cultivating opium poppy. It brings in more income. Our goal with growing poppy is to earn more
money. We don’t want to harm anyone. BETH MURPHY: There’s a reason farmers are
attracted to growing opium poppy. Haffizullah considered it because it’s more
drought-resistant than other crops. There’s also more of a market for it. HAFFIZULLAH AZAMI (through translator): I
have never cultivated it, but everyone knows it’s the way to make a good income. BETH MURPHY: Opium is a $60 billion industry
in Afghanistan, which supplies most of the world’s heroin. The amount grown here is skyrocketing. It’s almost doubled over the past year, despite
a mounting U.S. campaign to target the illicit crop and the Taliban. According to the United Nations, it’s impossible
to untangle the web of drugs, drought and war, and those with the least power suffer
most. DAUD RAHIMI: Girls and minorities, they are
affected more than anyone else on the climate change. BETH MURPHY: For one family in Herat province,
not having enough water set off a devastating chain reaction. SHAH MOHAMMADI, Afghanistan (through translator):
It was the reason I became indebted and lost everything, because of the drought. BETH MURPHY: To settle his debts, Shah Mohammadi
took his daughter Khudihja out of school. Instead of her getting a diploma, he was paid
a dowry when he forced her to get married. Late last year, she tried to find her own
way out. She attempted suicide by setting herself on
fire. KHUDIHJA, Afghanistan (through translator):
It’s all because of my husband. He physically and mentally abused me. Without my knowledge, they married me to that
man. When Afghan people are broke, they sell their
daughters. I’m not dead. I’m not alive. BETH MURPHY: It’s impossible to know what
®MDNM¯Khudihja’s life would be like if she had been able to stay in school, but there
is increasing evidence that, when girls are educated, their communities are stronger,
safer, and more resilient. In a recent study of 162 countries, the Brookings
Institution reports that for every additional year of schooling a girl receives, her country
is better prepared for, and better able to recover from climate disasters, like droughts
and floods. Author of “The Kite Runner” and United Nations
Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini explains that educated girls are more likely to become
decision-makers who reinvest in their community. KHALED HOSSEINI, Author, “The Kite Runner”:
There’s a saying that when you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate
a girl, you educate an entire community and change the culture. BETH MURPHY: For Haffizullah, even when drought
is responsible for another bad harvest, he’s got a secret weapon other farmers don’t: two
daughters who are educated. In this conservative country that has long
limited the role of women, Fazeela and Wazeela worked hard to convince their dad, who has
just a fifth-grade education, to let them graduate from high school and then earn teaching
degrees. Now they are both making a living as elementary
school teachers. FAZEELA, Teacher (through translator): Before
this, our economic situation was terrible. So, I wanted to go to school and be able to
earn money. I know that, with my salary, I can provide
for myself and my family. I’m really happy to be earning an income. BETH MURPHY: Together, the sisters are earning
about $4,000 a year. That’s the same amount their father used to
make off the farm before the drought. Now he’s lucky to make $1,000. HAFFIZULLAH AZAMI (through translator): If
my daughters didn’t work, I can’t imagine it. Our family couldn’t survive. Their teaching salary helps our family survive. BETH MURPHY: At the girls school where Wazeela
and Fazeela teach, there are nearly 700 students whose whole lives have been defined by drought,
and everything it is linked to, the poverty, the drugs, the war. And while they lose so much to these catastrophic
problems, their education is something no one can take from them. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Beth Murphy in
Deh Sabz, Afghanistan.