Tuesday, 19 January 2021

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Rocky road to environmental recovery in Afghanistan

Badakhshan Afghanistan (seair21) / Flickr 2.0 Generic CC BY-SA 2.0

6 November 2014 — Mankind has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods. The environment has often remained the unpublicised victim of war.

However, conflicts take a heavy toll on the environment, livestock and wildlife. Water wells have been polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned, and animals killed to gain military advantage.

Over 25 years of war in Afghanistan have had devastating impacts not only on its people, but also on its natural environment coupled with drought and earthquakes. But since 2002, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), through its Disaster and Conflict program, has taken an active role in laying the environmental foundations for sustainable development in Afghanistan – with promising results, which we highlight as we mark the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict on 6 November.

UNEP’s engagement in Afghanistan began with a major post-conflict environmental assessment, published in 2003. The report found that the long-term consequences of nearly 25 years of war and overexploitation of Afghanistan’s once rich natural resources created grave environmental threats like surface and groundwater scarcity and contamination, massive and ongoing deforestation, desertification of important wetlands, soil erosion, air pollution, and depleted wildlife populations.

Three steps to recovery

But after the 2003 post-conflict environmental assessment, UNEP began collaborating with Afghan authorities and partners, who together worked in primarily three ways to recover Afghanistan’s natural environment; by building governmental structures, establishing principles and capacity building. When UNEP completed its post-conflict environmental assessment, environmental education and awareness were essentially non-existent.

In 2012, the Government of Afghanistan, through its National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), launched a USD $6 million climate change initiative, the first of its kind in the country's history. A policy and legislative framework for environmental management have been created, including the Afghanistan Environment Law approved by the Afghani Parliament. And as educational opportunities of any kind were scarce and public awareness campaigns on environmental issues were very rare, NEPA and UNEP realized that new opportunities at all levels of society were needed for people to acquire environmental knowledge, skills, and understanding.

Over the years, such efforts have included: a State of the Environment Report for Afghanistan; a UNEP environmental awareness-raising strategy for Afghanistan; attendance of NEPA staff at international conferences; a handbook for Afghan journalists on environmental reporting.

Photo UNEP

Challenges ahead

Although UNEP have received praise for its efforts in Afghanistan, major challenges remain. Addressing the environmental problems in Afghanistan is an immense challenge that will take decades to be achieved by the Government of Afghanistan and NEPA. Sustained financial assistance and technical support will be needed during the entire process from the international community.

Security issues have compromised the effectiveness of UNEP’s work, interfering with staff movements to and from the office and counterpart institutions, travel to the countryside, visits to protected areas, and contacts with local people. Although the situation has improved since the first UNEP assessment in 2002, it is not free of setbacks.

The country continues to be plagued by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rocket attacks, suicide bombings and abductions.

Given that peace is still fragile, and the country’s new institutions are continually challenged, remaining an overall threat to the recovery of Afghanistan’s natural environment.

Facts & F

  • Afghanistan has an area of 652,000 square kilometres.

  • Up to 80% of Afghans are directly dependent on natural resources for income and sustenance.

  • Agriculture provides livelihoods for more than 60% of the population.

  • Since 1998, more than 6.7 million Afghans have been affected by the impacts of disasters and extreme weather events such as drought, earthquakes, disease epidemics, sandstorms, and harsh winters.


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