How Is the WCS Helping to Protect At-Risk Afghan Wildlife?

WCS logoFrom the secretive snow leopard to the majestic Marco Polo sheep, many unique species of wildlife call Afghanistan home. Unfortunately, factors like habitat encroachment, over-hunting or illegal poaching, and ecosystem degradation—all aggravated by Afghanistan’s years of conflict—are driving many of these species to the brink.

That’s where the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) comes in. Since 2004, this US-based organization has been leading environmental protection and preservation efforts across Afghanistan, and has successfully implemented conservation initiatives designed to address a broad range of environmental issues.

A number of these initiatives specifically target key Afghan wildlife species that are at risk of becoming endangered or extinct, and that are greatly in need of protective measures. Read on to learn more about some of these unique species and how WCS is helping to protect them.

 

The snow leopard

Only 12 countries in the world are home to the rare and exquisite snow leopard. In Afghanistan, the snow leopard can be found in the remote Wakhan region, as well as in the area along Afghanistan’s eastern borders in Nuristan and Badakhshan. WCS’ work to help protect the snow leopard includes:

 

Conducting foundational research

The better informed scientists and researchers are about snow leopards in Afghanistan, the better positioned they can be to implement effective protective measures and lobby for conservation policies and legislation that will make a difference. Since 2009, WCS and its teams of trained community rangers have used camera traps and other techniques to gather evidence and document the presence of snow leopards. The camera traps have together produced more than 5,000 images of the animals. Another especially important achievement in this area was the completion of the first-ever satellite telemetry study on Afghan snow leopards. Research to date has established that there are about 200 individual snow leopards in Afghanistan: a higher number than previously estimated.

 

snow-leopard

 

Promoting species protection

The creation of Wakhan National Park, facilitated by WCS in 2014 and based on WCS research, has helped to protect approximately 70% of Afghanistan’s total snow leopard habitat. WCS also helped ensure that the snow leopard was listed as a legally protected species by Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency in 2009, and later helped draft the 2013 National Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Plan.

 

Helping farmers

When humans and wildlife live in close proximity to one another, the inevitable clashes between the two can be harmful to both. For example, snow leopards that are unable to find other prey may occasionally kill livestock. For a small-scale farmer with few other resources, this loss can be devastating and can lead to the desire to retaliate against snow leopards. To help prevent livestock losses in the first place and thus limit ensuing loss of animal life, WCS has built 35 predator-safe communal corrals throughout the Wakhan area that farmers can use to help keep their livestock safe from snow leopard attacks.

 

The Marco Polo sheep

With their massive, curling horns, Marco Polo sheep are easily recognizable as the flagship species of northeastern Afghanistan’s Pamir mountain range. WCS is protecting these distinctive ungulates by:

 

Establishing protected areas

Just as the creation of Wakhan National Park protected a significant proportion of snow leopard habitat, it also protected the heartland of Afghanistan’s population of Marco Polo sheep. In fact, the new park encloses the entire distribution range of Marco Polo sheep, allowing for better ongoing tracking and management of the population.

 

 

Reducing disease threat

The transmission of disease between livestock and wildlife is a problem in areas where these two types of animals have the opportunity to come into contact with each other. Given that Marco Polo sheep can live in close proximity to farms where cattle, goats, or other livestock graze freely, there is a high likelihood they might be affected by livestock diseases, or pass their own diseases on to domesticated animals. WCS is helping to reduce this risk by implementing transboundary surveys of livestock diseases in the Pamir area and working to facilitate an integrated approach to the study of diseases that impact livestock and wildlife alike.

 

Birdlife

Its central location at the crossroads of several distinct biogeographic spheres makes Afghanistan an incredible habitat for birds. Over 450 different bird species call the country home, and 17 of these are globally threatened, like the critically endangered Siberian crane. WCS efforts and achievements in protecting Afghanistan’s birdlife include:

 

Identifying critical breeding areas

In recent years, WCS has identified and confirmed the location of breeding grounds for a number of rare bird species found in Afghanistan. Chief among these is Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, which is the world’s highest-elevation breeding ground for greater flamingoes.

 

Siberian crane

 

Discovering a new bird species for Afghanistan

The identification of a new species is always an exciting event, helping to build greater awareness of local wildlife and the need to protect it. In 2008, WCS discovered a likely breeding population of large-billed reed warblers in Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan. The species has since been dubbed “the world’s least-known bird.”

How Is IOM Supporting Afghans Who Return to the Country?

Pushed out of their nation of origin for reasons that include war and extreme poverty, Afghans have increasingly been returning home in recent years. From 2012 to 2017, nearly 3.5 million natives of the country made their way back into one of 15 Afghan provinces from abroad, according to the International Organization for Migration. This total includes more than 398,000 people migrating back to Afghanistan from Iran.

With the Iranian economy worsening, 2018 has seen these numbers spike even more. From January 1 to June 9, over 320,000 members of the Afghan diaspora migrated from Iran, a rate nearly double of that seen during the same period in 2017. Unfortunately, whether these individuals have been deported or chosen to cross back into Afghanistan of their own accord, many lack sufficient financial resources and require protection and support.

 

Reaching Out to Afghan Migrants in Need

IOMlogoThe International Organization for Migration (IOM) recognizes the challenges faced by returning Afghan migrants and is engaging in ongoing efforts to aid these individuals. Founded in 1951, IOM has a long history of assisting in efforts that benefit migrants.

In its earliest years, IOM focused on helping European governments identify where to resettle the approximately 11 million people displaced by World War II. The organization has expanded its mandate over the ensuing decades. Today, it holds distinction as the world’s foremost migration agency and is active in more than 150 countries.

These countries include Afghanistan, where IOM has maintained a presence since 1992. Among the organization’s largest missions, IOM Afghanistan commits itself to benefiting migrants and society by facilitating orderly and humane migration. Since 2007, the mission has specifically concentrated on supporting Afghans relocating from Iran. Through a network of transit and screening facilities located on the border between the two countries, IOM provides case management and humanitarian assistance to individuals whose gender, age, and health, among other factors, make them highly vulnerable.

For some of these highly vulnerable individuals, the issues they face are as serious as potential impending death. IOM estimates, in fact, that a minimum of 30 percent of all Afghans migrating from Iran require life-saving humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, as of May of 2018, the agency stands equipped to help only about 7 percent of these individuals.

 

Italian Donation Augments IOM Afghanistan’s Border Services

Recognizing the need for enhanced migration services in Afghanistan, Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperated announced in May 2018 a donation of €1 million to IOM Afghanistan. The funding will help to pay for IOM’s humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan’s Nimroz and Herat provinces, both of which border Iran.

In Nimroz, the funding will specifically allow for the construction of a transit center. Through this facility, IOM will offer more effective registration and screening of migrants. In Herat, meanwhile, IOM health staff will undergo training that will enable them to provide psychosocial support to returning Afghans. The funding will further cover the cost of monitoring surveys used by IOM and its partners to shape humanitarian responses.

 

IOM Encourages Migration of Skilled Afghans from Iran

Of the 3 million Afghans living in Iran, many do not require humanitarian aid when relocating back home. In fact, they may have valuable qualifications that can potentially benefit their native country. Among these individuals is Foruzan Faghiri, a 29-year-old Afghan-born physicist who was profiled in June of 2018 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Forced by war to flee to Iran when she was 3, Ms. Faghiri has gone on to find success in her adopted country. She invented an inexpensive, easy-to-use pollution monitor that has earned praise on both sides of the Afghanistan-Iran border. Yet, despite her accomplishments abroad, she still desires to return home to Afghanistan.

To help skilled individuals like Ms. Faghiri bring their expertise back to Afghanistan, IOM has created the Return of Qualified Afghans (RQA) program. Since its inception in 2001, the program has facilitated the homecoming of 1,665 members of the Afghan diaspora, including more than 600 Afghans who formerly resided in Iran.

These individuals, who have valuable qualifications in areas such as engineering, IT, and health care, return to Afghanistan with the intention of aiding in the recovery and development of their country of origin. This goal is shared by organizations like the Aga Khan Development Network.

 

RQA Program Celebrates Success, Earns Additional Funding

In 2017-18 alone, the RQA program enabled the return of 20 Afghans from Iran. To recognize this success, IOM held an event in Kabul in April of 2018.

At the event, participants in the RQA program shared their stories about relocating back to Afghanistan and being connected with positions at the country’s Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, Ministry of Energy and Water, and other agencies. Speakers reflected positively on their experience in the program and urged other members of the Afghan diaspora to participate.

Outside of celebrating the program and its participants, the event recognized the contributions of the government of Japan. Japan has funded the RQA program since 2008 and currently serves as the program’s sole sponsor. In remarks prepared for the event by Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, the East Asian nation announced that it will continue its support of the RQA program with a $1 million contribution in 2018-19.

The Bayat Foundation Supports Higher Education for Afghans

Founded by Fatema and Ehsan Bayat in 2006, the Bayat Foundation aims to provide hope and assistance to Afghans in need while working to rebuild the country. A 501(c)(3) charitable organization based in the United States, the foundation focuses on initiatives designed to improve the health and well-being of all Afghans.

The Bayat Foundation also maintains a commitment to closing the educational gap in the country. To this end, it has undertaken a number of projects designed to enhance academic opportunities in Afghanistan for everyone from children to college students. For example, the nonprofit has provided a range of support to learning centers that serve refugees and young people who have been orphaned, among other vulnerable groups. Another recipient of the foundation’s assistance has been institutions of higher learning, most notably the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF).

 

American University of Afghanistan Receives Assistance

American University of AfghanistanLocated in Kabul, the American University of Afghanistan holds distinction as the country’s only private, nonprofit, independent, co-ed, nonsectarian institution of higher learning. AUAF, which awards undergraduate degrees in four areas of study and master’s degrees in two, has graduated nearly 1,000 students since opening in 2006. Graduates of AUAF have gone on to secure high-level positions with the Afghan government, as well as national and international organizations. Other graduates of AUAF have gained admission to universities in countries around the world.

AUAF holds accreditation from the Ministry of Higher Education and maintains partnerships with Stanford University, Georgetown University, the University of California system, as well as other institutions in the United States and Middle East. Through these relationships, the institution strives to ensure that it continues to provide students with a world-class education.

In order to help AUAF to achieve its goals, the Bayat Foundation recently underwrote the construction of the university’s new Bayat Institute of Technology, which opened in spring 2018. The 32,000-square-foot academic center houses seven laboratories, six lecture halls, and a library. At these state-of-the-art facilities, students and educators have an opportunity to take part in demanding research and teaching, which has the effect of expanding Afghanistan’s technical, scientific, and engineering knowledge. The center also provides support to Afghan-led innovation and entrepreneurship in the fields of technology and science.

 

Completion of the Bayat Institute of Technology

The Bayat Institute of Technology, which also consists of 22 faculty offices, two prayer halls, a rooftop leisure center, and an atrium social center, was built using sustainable design and construction methods. Air circulates naturally through the atrium, while myriad windows allow for ample natural light. LED lighting has also been employed, as has repurposed marble.

The marble has been integrated with aluminum, porcelain, and gypsum to create an architecturally sound, earthquake-resistant structure. What’s more, the Bayat Institute of Technology’s radiant alabaster-colored exterior and other architectural and design elements coalesce to produce a distinguished-looking building that stands out as a marvel of Afghan craftsmanship.

In addition to underwriting the construction of the Bayat Institute of Technology, the Bayat Foundation has established a $1 million endowment fund, which will cover the operational costs of the building for the next decade. This ongoing support will extend what Ehsan Bayat calls an “unbreakable partnership” between the foundation and AUAF.

In previous years, this partnership has seen the Bayat Foundation work to improve other facilities on AUAF’s Kabul campus. In 2009, the nonprofit assisted AUAF in renovating the school gymnasium. Five years later, it again enhanced the gymnasium, this time reconstructing it. Now known as the Michelle Bayat Gymnasium, the facility benefited from the addition of new flooring, basketball hoops, and exercise spaces. The 2014 renovation also included the addition of new ventilation, plumbing, and electrical systems.

 

Foundation Donates Textbooks to Nangarhar University

The Bayat Foundation’s support of higher education does not end with AUAF. Over the years, the nonprofit has drawn on its resources to furnish quality textbooks to universities throughout Afghanistan. In 2014, Nangarhar University received a generous donation of textbooks, which the foundation provided with the cooperation of the international humanitarian nonprofit Operation Compassion.

Located in Jalalabad, Nangarhar University has offered a quality education to Afghans since it opened in 1963. Solely a medical school at the time of its inception, the institution has since expanded to comprise 13 colleges and 73 departments. Currently, 467 lecturers instruct 14,004 students in the university’s wide-ranging bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD programs.

Due to the Bayat Foundation’s donation, Nangarhar University will be able to continue to expand the knowledge of its students in the coming years. In the past, the foundation has also facilitated textbook donations for Maimana University, an institution located in Faryab Province.

The Bayat Foundation encourages anyone who is passionate about improving the education, health, and well-being of Afghans to support its various initiatives. Individuals can make a donation or engage in a number of other fund-raising efforts, such as participating in a charitable-matching program at their workplace. The nonprofit also welcomes the assistance of volunteers, sponsors, and public speakers to help spread the word about its important work.