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A quarter century of conflict and war has rendered Afghanistan one of the most environmentally damaged nations on the Earth, and now, Afghanistan's environmental degradation is considered a stumbling block to its development. "Our evergreen forests have been diminished in the last 25 years by 40 to 50 percent, or in some places 60 percent. Our pistachio forests in Badghis and Takhar in the north are gone, or at least 90 percent of them are lost," says Yusuf Nuristani, Afghanistan's minister of irrigation, water resources and environment. A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program warns that Afghanistan faces a future without forests, clean water, wildlife or unpolluted air if current trends are not reversed. The report says Afghanistan's environmental damage is a "major stumbling block" to reconstruction and development. It is not only Afghanistan's forests that are disappearing though. Five years of drought and the destruction of a centuries-old canal network have left many Afghans without clean drinking water or water for irrigation. The U.N. report says even good news, such as the return of more than one million refugees to Afghanistan last year, has hurt the environment, choking major cities with exhaust fumes and overloading the sewer systems. Mr Nuristani says a quarter century of war has left his country environmentally devastated. "Right now, we are in a mess. The drought, the war, the neglect and the low level of understanding among the people about the environment have caused all these problems. So we have to intervene right now in whatever way we can," he said.

According to the passage, damage to Afghanistan's natural environment ------ .

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