Kabul is a more than 4,000-year old city once known as a city of gardens; now it is among the world's five most polluted capital cities, according to the U.S.-based Environmental Performance Index.
Air pollution in Kabul, which is estimated at seven times the safe level, is a little discussed yet potentially calamitous threat to public safety in the war-torn country.
The National Environmental Protection Authority recently estimated that at least 3,000 lives are lost in the capital each year because of health complications related to pollution.
The environmental authority's director Mustafa Zahir believes there is very little time left to rescue the city.
“We have raised the alarm many a time but unfortunately no serious attention has been paid towards this serious problem,” he said.
The environmental authority has urged senior figures in the new Afghan government to treat Kabul's environmental health as a matter or urgency.
President Ghani, a long-time Kabul resident, appears to be aware of the issue, once saying that “Kabul’s heart is about to burst” but, according to the environmental authority, his concern has not yet turned into a remedy.
“If the government does not show a strong political will to counter this problem soon enough things may get worse,” said Zahir during a press conference last week.
According to the United Nations Environment Program 60 percent of Kabul's population is exposed to elevated concentrations of particulate matter, nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide.
The National Environmental Protection Authority has reported that, in the past nine years, there have been around 480,000 reported cases of respiratory illnesses and asthma.
Decades of armed conflict have prevented the growth of Afghanistan's industrial sector, indirectly limiting some forms of pollution. Recently, relative stability in the city has presented new problems.
Kabul is a city of 5 million but it was designed for 500,000. There are 10 times more than on the streets than a decade ago.
During winters, many of the city’s public hammams, a type of public bath, burn rubber tires to warm the water. Residents routinely burn wood, coal and garbage to keep warm. Raw sewage and dust add to the smog.
Dr. Kamal Shah, a Gastroenterologist in Kabul’s eastern Ahmad Shah Baba township, said he has never seen so many patients with intestinal parasites as he has in Kabul.
“I refer every patient with stomach pain and dizziness to the laboratory and almost a third of them prove to have worms inside their body,” said Shah.
He said it is because the city has no proper sewage system, leading to contaminated ground water which is often consumed by Kabul's residents.
Historians say it was the charismatic natural beauty of the Afghan capital that enticed Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur, the 15th Century Mughal Emperor, to choose Kabul as the site for his burial. Legend says that Babur was in love with the wild flowers of Kabul and wished to eternally rest among their smell.
The city retained its character until and even after the 1980s Soviet occupation, said 68-year old Kabul resident Haji Khalil.
Khalil takes a small, personal role in keeping Kabul's legacy alive by maintaining his own private garden.
“I remember Kabul as a city where everyone had love and affection for nature, everyone cared for the trees and flowers but unfortunately the wars destroyed it all, everyone got worried for their lives and forgot about the flowers and the environment,” he lamented.