Afghanistan is one of the most mined nations in the world. Millions of them are spread all over the country and the victims are usually children, often because they pick them up and play with them.
This kid is a shepherd and he was taking the herd on the mountains when he stepped on a landmine.
In the countryside mines paralyze the activities, since agriculture and breeding are impossible in this situation.
Opium production in Afghanistan is on the rise and its now the world's leading producer of opium. Drug lords exist with little threat to their operations.
We met Mirwais Yasini, the head of the anti-narcotics dept in Kabul, and he was a concerned man too. A small task force he leads, compared to the size of the problem. Production has gone up many-fold over the past few years, and there is reason to believe that some of the proceeds go in to funding the Al Quaida etc.
The main problem however is that the lure for the farmer to grow opium is really high...In a country where annual incomes barely reach $170, farmers can earn up to $6,500 a year from opium production, they can make up to 38 times as much growing opium as they can from wheat. Opium has long been used as a traditional medicine in Afghanistan, but now its illegal to grow poppy.The Karzai government has often come up with schemes to get opium farmers to shift away from poppy cultivation, but its never really worked very effectively compared to the opportunity cost...
The police and narcotics dept will put you thru a pretty thorough search on your way out of the country at the airport... your suitcase may go thru some rough moments. So pack with care...
Unfortunately, the current situation in Afghanistan is not stable enough to allow tourism for Western persons. Even in Kabul, the constant threat of kidnapping, bombings, and random acts of violence makes travel here unworth the risk.
Once the security situation improves though, visitors can expect to see mountain vistas that rival the Canadian Rockies, people that are some of the friendliest in the world, and culinary delights that will rival those of many other Asian countries.
Kabul itself is a massive collection of mud walled buildings, with a small core of medium sized office buildings. Those expecting high rise towers and apartments will be disappointed, which is one of the most interesting parts of the capital.
There are some large markets in the centre of town, beautiful mosques, monuments to the many wars, mountains right in the centre of traffic, and a zoo which contains the only pig in all of Afghanistan. Once there is a higher level of stability, this will be a great place to visit, but sadly, it just isnt ready yet.
Landmines and other unexploded battlefield detritus, commonly known as unexploded ordnance (UXO), contaminate at least 724 million square meters of land in Afghanistan. Only two of Afghanistan's twenty-nine provinces are believed to be free of landmines.
Afghanistan was heavily mined during the Soviet occupation years, 1980-1992. Most were placed around cities and airports. While the country is making progress with the removal, it is still one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. With that said, Kabul is the most heavily mined city.
Keep an eye out for rocks painted red and white. The white rocks indicate cleared areas, and the red side of the rock will be facing the dangerous, mined area. Some markings may be removed, so avoid leaving the road.
There are still risks of Improvised Explosive Devices (can be made out of a wide range of materials), remote controlled explosives placed in vehicles, kindappings, and suicide bombers.
The Taliban which means "student" in Pashto ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. They were well known for their strict interpretation of Islam. Women effectively had no rights. They could not work or go to school, be seen out in public without a man and without being covered from head to toe and be touched by another man which meant they couldn't even see a doctor (all doctors were men because women could not work). Kids were not allowed to fly kites and music was forbidden. Beware if you broke any of these rules because they really liked their public executions. The leader of the Taliban is Mullah Mohammed Omar who allowed Osama Bin Laden to live in Afghanistan and train Al-Qaida. The Taliban was only recognised by 3 official states of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Maybe the only positive thing they done was to halt almost all of the opium production in Afghanistan. In March 2001 they recieved criticism from all around the world when they destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan. In late 2001 they were ousted from power by the Northern Alliance and USA air power for not handing over Osama Bin Laden.
Today now they are an insurgent group that conducts guerilla operations against coalition forces, especially in the south. They seem to get members from all over the Islamic world but a lot of them are from Pakistan. They also target civilians that work with coalition nations even if it is as simple as building roads funded by coalition nations. They are a very serious threat and areas with active Taliban should be avoided.
With almost all countries that have had or currently wars within the last century will have a problem with unexploded ordnances (UXOs) and Afghanistan is no different. A lot of the minefields from the Soviet days are marked and lots of stuff has been cleaned up. But there is a new war going on especially in the south which is making more UXOs. Leave them alone as they are designed to kill and maim and just because it didn't go off does not mean that they won't. I have heard stories that sometimes at sunset UXOs will go off just because of the sudden change in temperature. That's how sensitive some of this stuff can be.
Anyone who has travelled a bit in developing countries would be used to this. Afghanistan is no different with Police Checkpoints. With all the action still happening in Afghanistan there are a lot of these checks going on especially with the insurgents. The Afghan National Police are still new with this but for the most part seem uncorrupt but I have heard of lunch money going missing. Currently they are often supported with coalition forces which you should have nothing to worry about then. The real reason I did this tip is because I wanted to show off a picture of a police checkpoint in a developing nation. How often can you get away with that.
There are many health considerations when visiting Afghanistan. Water pollution is a huge problem, and sewage contaminates ground/well water in many districts. Food may have fecal contamination and may be prepared in unsanitary conditions. For those with asthma, sometimes the air can be filled with dust and sand.
Afghanistan is also home to many venomous snakes, scorpions, and spiders!
The malaria season is roughly April through November and is at most risk at altitudes below 2000m. Sand flies can give leishmaniasis, mostly from April through October.
Currently, there is inadequate pubic health in Afghanistan. This country also has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world.
Road conditions are also improving, but be on the lookout for frequent deep pot holes as well as speed bumps. Be prepared to share the road with terrible drivers, horse drawn carriages and very large, colorful trucks. There is a risk of mines and IEDs. Overall the road conditions are very poor, and there does not seem to be any traffic laws.
Listen to local advice regarding road saftety. Most of the country is still pretty much ok, however, close to Kandahar, the Taliban still holds out. Not thay are going to kill you deliberately but you might be sitting in the wrong bus when the bomb explodes.
Land mines? A problem everywhere so don't stray away from the dusty gravel roads.
The cities are generally safe, whereas the countryside is more dodgy. Listen to the local advice and stay out of turbulent regions. At present, the worst part is the Kandahar region.
Land mines? Lots of them, so don't venture away from the dusty gravel roads.
Do as much research as possible before going.
A good place to start is Kabul Caravan
Also look at The Survival Guide to Kabul
I came to rely on Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe's daily news updates to keep me up to date before and during my trip. Follow the link and subscribe to any of the three branches you're interested in.
Kabul, 6th september 2002, 4pm
With the numerous ethnic groups, warlords, al quaida, taliban, and all the baggage from afghan history books, more attacks like this bomb blast in the middle of a crowded marketplace are bieng expected in the future.
Fortunate or unfortunate, we were not too far when it happened. We got our shots.
u'll find plenty of westerners telling you not to do this or not to go there.
that's full rubbish by those who know nothing and just want to impress you.
the country's perfectly safe. there are less landmines than you think, and only in areas well known by locals and usually marked by regularly-spaced heaps of colored stones. just walk where all others walk.
at time of writing, it's pretty safe to take the desert highway via kandahar, but i wouldn't step out there.
talibans only mess out in provinces bordering pakistan.
the central route is perfectly safe. so is the north.
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