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World: Coal, an unavoidable pollutant in the harsh Afghan winter

Smog chokes Indian capital as air pollution levels soar

  Smog chokes Indian capital as air pollution levels soar NEW DELHI (AP) — Sky obscured by thick, gray smog. Monuments and high-rise buildings swallowed by a blanket of haze. People struggling to breathe. In the Indian capital, it is that time of the year again. The city’s air quality index fell into the “very poor” category on Sunday, according to SAFAR, India’s main environmental monitoring agency, and in many areas levels of the deadly particulate matter reached around six times the global safety threshold. NASA satellite imagery also showed most of India’s northern plains covered by thick haze.Among the many Indian cities gasping for breath, New Delhi tops the list every year.

At a Kabul market, coal is arriving by the tonne as the winter cold sets in.

In the winter, Afghans have few options but to burn coal for heat, creating some of the world's most dangerous air © WAKIL KOHSAR In the winter, Afghans have few options but to burn coal for heat, creating some of the world's most dangerous air

Even as prices rise, Afghans have few options but to burn it for heat, creating some of the world's most dangerous air.

"Pollution causes serious respiratory diseases ... All Afghans know what coal does," customer Amanullah Daudzai, dressed in a traditional beige shalwar kameez, tells AFP.

More than three months after the Taliban drove the Western-backed government out of the country, Afghanistan's economy is facing collapse.

Smog chokes Indian capital as air pollution levels soar

  Smog chokes Indian capital as air pollution levels soar NEW DELHI (AP) — Sky obscured by thick, gray smog. Monuments and high-rise buildings swallowed by a blanket of haze. People struggling to breathe. In the Indian capital, it is that time of the year again. The city’s air quality index fell into the “very poor” category on Sunday, according to SAFAR, India’s main environmental monitoring agency, and in many areas levels of the deadly particulate matter reached around six times the global safety threshold. NASA satellite imagery also showed most of India’s northern plains covered by thick haze.Among the many Indian cities gasping for breath, New Delhi tops the list every year.

In such desperate conditions, Daudzai says coal is still cheaper than the alternatives.

"If we had electricity and gas, people wouldn't use coal," says one of the market traders, Abdullah Rahimi.

None of Rahimi's 40 or so employees seems to have escaped the black dust that has crept deep into the wrinkles of the older workers.

It is already well established under the nails of the younger staff, and is probably inside their bronchial tubes as well, though some are not yet 15 years old.

They throw blocks of coal to each other, push wheelbarrows loaded with bags, make piles with shovels, and load customers' vehicles.

- 'Hotter and hotter' -

It is a long way from this month's COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where nearly 200 nations signed a deal to try to halt runaway global warming, naming coal use among the main culprits.

Afghans say the Taliban is too busy policing women to prevent a humanitarian disaster that could leave half of Afghanistan hungry this winter

  Afghans say the Taliban is too busy policing women to prevent a humanitarian disaster that could leave half of Afghanistan hungry this winter Three months into Taliban rule, half of the population of Afghanistan faces acute food insecurity between now and March, the UN says.The plan was to drive to the makeshift encampment on the northern edge of Afghanistan's capital that's become home to scores of displaced Afghans and distribute the warm clothing.

Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries, remains a relatively modest polluter.

Day labourers unload coal at a coal yard on the outskirts of Kabul © WAKIL KOHSAR Day labourers unload coal at a coal yard on the outskirts of Kabul

In 2018, the average Afghan caused 0.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions, compared with about 15 from the average American, World Bank figures show.

Nevertheless, Kabul is often ranked in the top 10 worst cities for pollution globally.

Every winter the air in the capital, located at an altitude of 1,800 metres (5,900 feet), becomes toxic, filled with smoke from domestic heaters burning coal, wood and any other waste that can be burned, from household garbage to car tyres.

Afghanistan remains a relatively modest polluter but Kabul is often ranked in the top 10 worst cities for pollution globally © WAKIL KOHSAR Afghanistan remains a relatively modest polluter but Kabul is often ranked in the top 10 worst cities for pollution globally

From the surrounding mountains, the thick cloud of smog that covers the basin where at least five million people live can clearly be seen.

4 ex-coal mine officials cleared in Kentucky fraud trial

  4 ex-coal mine officials cleared in Kentucky fraud trial LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal jury has cleared four former coal company officials who were accused of skirting dust rules in two underground Kentucky mines. The jury in U.S. District Court in Louisville deliberated Wednesday for about two hours before returning not guilty verdicts. The trial was a rare attempt to prosecute coal company officials on criminal charges. Federal prosecutors had alleged that the men ordered subordinates to tamper with dust collection equipment at two Armstrong Coal mines in order to stay in compliance with federal regulations.

"Global warming is a problem for the whole world. We are aware of it here," says Daudzai.

"It's getting hotter and hotter, we don't get snow every winter like we used to."

- Buying coal to survive -

Plagued by decades of war, and still reeling from the consequences of the Taliban takeover in August, the environment is rarely a priority for Afghans.

International aid has dried up and the economy has come to a standstill, while climate change-related drought is spreading hunger.

Coal prices have risen by nine percent in the past year, partly because of more expensive transport.

"Before, we used to sell one or two truckloads a day. Now we need 15 or 20 days," says the trader Rahimi.

Afghanistan's economy has come to a standstill, but coal prices have risen and Kabul residents say they are struggling to pay © WAKIL KOHSAR Afghanistan's economy has come to a standstill, but coal prices have risen and Kabul residents say they are struggling to pay

Mohammad Yusuf Mangal, a 21-year-old real estate agent, has just negotiated to buy five tonnes. He will need six more to keep himself warm all winter.

Coal dust coats a worker at a coal yard on the outskirts on Kabul © WAKIL KOHSAR Coal dust coats a worker at a coal yard on the outskirts on Kabul

Business is suffering, but "we have to buy coal to survive" the winter, he says.

At another market, Sharifa Atayee, a 38-year-old widow with five children who had come to ask about prices, gives up.

"It's too expensive this year," she says.

She does not know when she will be able to buy more. She used to work in the police force, but has been unemployed since the arrival of the Taliban.

Now without a salary, she has sold all her gold and jewellery, but it is not enough.

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What Russia, China, Iran Want in Afghanistan When U.S. Troops Leave .
Russia, China and Iran seek to ensure stability in Afghanistan while securing their own interests, as friendly ties with Kabul are tested by a desire to engage with the powerful Taliban movement that has retaken much of the country. RussiaFor Russia, this means stepping up to a longstanding engagement in a country where it has a modern history of intervention and withdrawal.The 1980s Soviet attempt to defend a communist government in Kabul was met with fierce resistance by local and foreign mujahideen fighters, who received support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

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