What’s New at the UNESCO Office in Kabul?

Since it was re-opened in 2002, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has been working with the government of Afghanistan and a variety of local and international partners and stakeholders to build Afghanistan’s capacity in the areas of education,culture, communication and information, and natural and social sciences. In pursuit of this goal, the Office oversees a broad range of programs and events across these focus areas, all designed to enrich thelives of Afghan citizens and contribute to a stronger future for their country.

Some of the most recent offerings from the UNESCO Office in Kabul include the following:

Workshop on Intangible Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage involves more than monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions and living expressions (e.g., oral traditions, rituals,social practices, festive events, and performing arts, as well as the knowledge and skills involved in the production of traditional crafts) that cultural groups have passed down to their descendants for generations. UNESCO refers to this body of traditions as “intangible cultural heritage” (ICH), and the question of how to safeguard these practices is of growing concern in the face of globalization.

Image by Unesco Headquarters Paris | Flickr

In October 2018, UNESCO and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture organized a community-based workshop on the topic of preserving and promoting ICH in Afghanistan. Held over four days in the city of Bamiyan, the main goal of the workshop was to train local communities to effectively document,protect, and promote their own ICH practices. The workshop’s attendees included local ICH practitioners and representatives from a variety of organizations,including the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the University of Bamiyan. Over the course of the four days, participants learned about and discussed some of the fundamental theoretical concepts of ICH, assembled an inventory of documented examples of ICH practices in Bamiyan, and conferred about practical measures to safeguard ICH.

Bamiyan Management Plan Workshop

The former site of two massive and ancient open-air Buddha statues, the Bamiyan Valley is one of Afghanistan’s most important World Heritage Sites. However,the property’s fragile archaeological and geological context has also earned it a ranking on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Over the last decade,emergency preservation efforts have been undertaken, but the site is strongly in need of a comprehensive overall management plan, especially now that a variety of development initiatives are currently underway.

To assist with the development of the ambitious plan, UNESCO organized a three-day workshop in Bamiyan to bring together the key stakeholders that manage different areas of development in the region. At the October 2018 workshop,representatives from a variety of government offices—including the ministries of Information and Communication; Development and Housing; Agriculture,Irrigation, and Livestock; and Rural Rehabilitation and Development—came together to discuss how the proposed Bamiyan Cultural Master Plan and the Strategic Master Plan could be harmonized with existing development plans.

Curriculum Reform Workshop Series

Improving the quality of and access to education is currently one of Afghanistan’s top priorities. One of the key policies the country is adopting in pursuit of this goal is an ambitious reform of the national general education curriculum. To date, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has been one of the strongest supporters of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum reform efforts.

In late September 2018, the Office organized a workshop, the first in an intended series of five, to strengthen and advance the reform work that has taken place so far. The workshop series is geared toward the members of the Ministry of Education’s Technical Working Group, and also involves a number of Ministry senior officials. Broad workshop objectives include finalizing the Curriculum Framework for General Education, the Afghan Life Competencies Framework, and the syllabi for a variety of subject areas, as well as developing guidelines and quality assurance frameworks for textbooks and learning resources.

In addition, each of the five workshops will explore an element that is central to the goal of curriculum reform, including student-centered teaching and learning, strategies for active learning, formative assessment, integrating life competencies with particular subject areas, and syllabus mapping and review.

IPDCtalks

In 2016 UNESCO designated September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information. According to UNESCO, access to information is an essential human right that is necessary for the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. To commemorate this day in 2018, the UNESCO Office in Kabul held an IPDC talks event in early October.

Inspired by TED Talks and organized by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), IPDC talks is a global event series that aims to spark an international discussion of how to foster open societies and create better laws and policies in support of access to information. Speakers at the Kabul IPDC talks event included members of the media and civil society and representatives from Afghanistan’s government and the UN.

Spotlight on the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan

With its thousands of years of history, Afghanistan is home to a remarkable treasure trove of archaeological wealth. Within the country’s borders, incredible examples of protohistoric, Greek, Buddhist, and Islamic sites can all be found, reflecting the rich and complex legacy of Afghanistan’s many peoples and influences.

For nearly a century, the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA) has been one of the most important organizations working on the ground to preserve and protect Afghanistan’s exceptional archaeological heritage. In a recent article from CNRS News, DAFA’s director Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento gives readers a unique glimpse into DAFA’s history and current projects in Afghanistan.

Some of the most important takeaways from the article include:

 

DAFA is the only foreign archaeological team to have a permanent presence in Afghanistan.

Many scientific organizations have left Kabul in recent years due to the instability that continues to affect the city. The fact that DAFA has remained is a reflection of its long history and close ties with Afghanistan.

DAFA was established in 1922 at the request of the Afghan head of state at the time, King Amanullah. Under the original agreement between the French and Afghan governments, DAFA was granted exclusive rights to carry out archaeological excavations in Afghanistan. This changed in the 1960s, when other organizations were permitted to conduct excavations.

DAFA was forced to leave the country during the Soviet occupation and ensuing civil conflict. The organization returned in 2003 and has continued its work ever since. Today, the DAFA headquarters in Kabul are home to offices, a research center, a library of 20,000 books, storerooms, and restoration and photo laboratories.

 

archaeology

Image courtesy Jerome Starkey | Flickr

 

DAFA’s most important current project is the creation of a comprehensive inventory and map of Afghanistan’s archaeological heritage.

In 2014, the government of Afghanistan entrusted DAFA with the mission to produce a comprehensive archaeological map of the country. This document would serve as a detailed inventory of all of Afghanistan’s ancient sites. The goal of this project is to ensure that the Afghan government is able to make fully-informed decisions about prospective development projects—including road construction, urban planning initiatives, and mining—that may impact sites of archaeological importance.

The decision to launch this project was prompted in part by a decade-old controversy. In 2007, the news broke that a Chinese company had acquired the mining and extraction rites to Mes Aynak. This site is roughly 25 miles southeast of Kabul and is home to both the remains of an ancient Buddhist city and one of the world’s largest untapped copper deposits.

The future of the Mes Aynak archaeological site remains uncertain. Fortunately, historical preservationists all around the world have been working hard to save it. Going forward, DAFA’s inventory and mapping project is intended to help prevent similar situations from arising in the future.

 

DAFA currently relies on remote detection to conduct the majority of its survey work.

There are extensive logistical challenges involved in accessing Afghanistan’s archaeological sites. These include security concerns, extreme weather conditions, and the remote nature of many of the locations. As a result, it’s not feasible for DAFA team members to conduct systemic excavation campaigns in the field.

For this reason, DAFA is assembling its map of archaeological sites with the aid of thousands of drone and aerial photos. These are drawn from a variety of sources, including declassified NATO satellite images and aerial survey photographs taken by Airbus around mining concessions.

It’s a painstaking process. Because ancient Afghan buildings were typically made of mud, their remains are fragile and difficult to spot. In addition, many archaeological sites have been broken into and damaged by looters over the years, making them even more challenging to identify. This means that each photograph must be carefully examined by a trained professional who knows precisely what to look for.

 

The DAFA inventory has made considerable progress in recent years.

Hundreds of hours of effort have been made by the project’s 20 dedicated team members, most of whom are Afghan researchers and technicians. As a result, DAFA has made considerable progress on the mapping and inventory project over the last few years.

About 1,300 sites had already been discovered and published by the time of the Soviet invasion, when DAFA was forced to leave Afghanistan. Since the current mapping and inventory project was launched in 2014, DAFA has brought to light nearly 5,000 additional sites. The organization emphasizes that the survey is far from complete.

On the map, the sites are color-coded by category. Sites marked in yellow have already been excavated, those marked in blue have been identified but not excavated, and those in red have been only recently discovered and still need to be identified. Eventually, DAFA aims to produce a detailed geographic information system (GIS), in which a database of available site information can be accessed from each point on the map.

Featured Image courtesy Jerome Starkey | Flickr

Conservation Is the Top Priority for These 3 Organizations

When you look at the mission statements of most of the NGOs currently working in Afghanistan, the objectives tend to be what you would expect from organizations focused on helping a country rebuild after decades of conflict—achieving political and economic stability, increasing access to quality education, and improving health care. However, a small but passionate collection of organizations are dedicating themselves to what might seem, under the circumstances, like a surprising priority: environmental conservation.

WCSlogoOr is it so surprising? In an article from 2011, members of the Wildlife Conservation Society countered the perception that conservation work in conflict zones is just a distraction from more urgent issues by offering an insightful examination of the ways in which contemporary conservation projects can make an important contribution to the mission of stabilization. The article points out that in the 21st century, environmental conservation has evolved into an interdisciplinary, multitasking enterprise. No longer carried out in isolation, efforts to preserve species and wild areas are increasingly being conducted hand-in-hand with economic advancement opportunities for the people who live near and among these wild creatures and places. As a result, conservation work is proving to be an important tool for helping developing nations build civil societies and sustainable economic opportunities.

While the Wildlife Conservation Society is perhaps the largest and best-known entity dedicated to environmental work in Afghanistan, there are a number of other local and international organizations engaging in conservation projects on a smaller but no less committed scale. These organizations include the following three:

 

  1. The Center for Middle Eastern Plants

Established in 2009 under the umbrella of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the Center for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP) is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Middle Eastern environment. With a mission to help local partners tackle complex environmental issues, CMEP creates and implements projects across the Middle East that are designed to leave pragmatic, environmentally sustainable legacies. CMEP’s services include planning, surveying, landscaping, capacity development, and conservation efforts.

CMEP has been working in Afghanistan ever since the organization started. Over the last decade, the government of Afghanistan has made a commitment to environmental conservation and the sustainable use of biological diversity, as evidenced by the country’s recent signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other similar actions. In recent years, CMEP has been an important partner for Afghanistan, helping the country to build capacity and knowledge to better honor its commitments under the CBD. Working with a range of local partners, CMEP has helped to develop an ex situ conservation strategy for the Kabul University Botanic Garden, created and implemented a biodiversity research skills training program at Kabul University, and provided training and support for IUCN Red Listing (the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of at-risk plant and animal species). CMEP also runs online botany courses to help Afghans, as well as citizens of other Middle Eastern countries, to learn more about native plant species.

 

Afghanistan

 

  1. Rural Green Environment Organization

Founded in 2002, the Rural Green Environment Organization (RGEO) has helped to dramatically transform the environmental narrative in the northeastern province of Badakhshan. In the early 1990s, the province’s natural resources were all but depleted following the decade-long Soviet occupation—a serious problem given that 80 percent of Afghans depend on natural resource-based activities like farming, herding, and small-scale mining for their livelihoods. Faced with this challenging situation, Haji Awrang, the then-governor of Badakhshan’s Tagab district, developed a recovery plan that, in a forward-thinking way, took both social and ecological needs into account.

Today, Awrang’s legacy is upheld by RGEO, which continues to engage local communities in projects and initiatives that benefit the environment and the economy. With the support of Badakhshan residents, RGEO has banned illegal fishing and hunting; built a thriving system of tree nurseries, forest guard patrols, and reforesting projects; protected 2 kilometers of river; built 5 kilometers of irrigation canals and 120,000 meters of farm terracing; created more than 6,150 jobs and work-for-food programs; and incorporated environmental education into programs at local schools and mosques. In 2015 RGEO was awarded the prestigious Equator Prize by the United Nations Development Program in recognition of its outstanding environmental stewardship.

 

agriculture

 

  1. The Heinrich Böll Foundation

An environmental think tank and policy institute based in Germany, the Heinrich Böll Foundation works with 160 project partners in more than 60 countries worldwide to develop and implement green visions, projects, and policy reform. The foundation has worked in Afghanistan since 2012 to address the urgent issue of resource depletion.

Afghanistan is a country rich in natural resources, but due to decades of conflict and political instability, the use of these resources has seldom been effectively managed. As a result, local communities and the environment have suffered. The Heinrich Böll Foundation is working to improve transparency in resource depletion through an environmental and natural resource monitoring network, which aims to ensure that resource development projects comply with international standards of environmental and social sustainability. Today, the network has more than 50 members and is an important contact for government officials.