Commentary Magazine


That Ominous Haze Over Kabul

I’m in Kabul now where two facts are evident every time you step outside.

First, security here is good — most days go by without a single insurgent attack in the capital, knock on wood. The streets are bustling. Movement is pretty unrestricted. This is nothing like Baghdad during the dark days of the Iraq war. Even Baghdad today remains less secure.

Second, the air quality is beyond terrible. I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s-80s, when smog was a fact of life. But seldom have I seen smog as bad as it is here. An ominous haze hovers over the city, and many people go around with a hacking cough. Turns out this is not just a quality-of-life problem — it’s a life or death issue.

Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Office (who knew that such a thing even existed?) claims that 3,000 people die annually from air pollution in Kabul — more than are killed in insurgent violence in the entire country. That’s not counting, of course, the dubious air quality in other parts of the country, which no doubt takes a serious toll as well. I have no idea if this statistic is accurate or not, but it’s clear that Afghanistan needs to act not just on the security front but on the environmental front as well.

Back home, I’m hardly a green activist, but spending time breathing the fumes of Kabul is enough to turn me into a fan of the EPA.