Spotlight on the Clean and Green Cities Program

According to UN-Habitat, the United Nations program dedicated to building a better urban future, clean, green, and beautiful public spaces are one of the most important elements of a livable city. High-quality public spaces that are not profit-based and that are accessible to all bring many benefits to a city: they enhance community cohesion, promote health and well-being, and allow cities to support a higher population density.

It was in order to bring these benefits to some of Afghanistan’s cities, many of which are still recovering from the effects of decades of conflict and population displacement, that UN-Habitat helped launch the Clean and Green Cities (CGC) program in March of 2017. Read on to learn more about the CGC program and about UN-Habitat.

 

What is the Clean and Green Cities program?

The CGC program is an urban initiative that is working to implement public space upgrades and improve certain municipal services in a dozen cities around Afghanistan, including Kabul. Over the last few decades, conflict, unregulated development, rapid population growth, and aging infrastructure and services have seriously compromised the livability of many of Afghanistan’s urban centers.

The CGC program aims to address this on a local scale by providing support for key “cleaning and greening” activities. These activities are carried out by local residents in cooperation with each city’s municipal government and nahias (a nahia is a municipal administrative sub-district: essentially, a neighborhood).

In addition to the refreshment and revitalization of public spaces, job creation and economic stimulus are important components of the CGC program. Through the funding it receives from a number of international supporters, including the EU, the CGC program creates jobs for more than 13,500 people. The program has a particular focus on making the jobs accessible to vulnerable populations, including returnees and the urban poor. UN-Habitat supports these efforts through technical assistance and expertise.

 

What CGC initiatives have taken place so far?

In Kabul, five major categories of cleaning and beautification activities have been identified by the community and the municipal government. These are: collecting solid waste from households, planting trees, sweeping streets, painting curbs, and cleaning roadside ditches. Under the umbrella of the CGC program, these activities will be carried out regularly, and in accordance with set standards of performance, through coordinated planning efforts from the municipality of Kabul and specially created nahia development committees.

More recently, in February 2018, the mayor of Kabul announced that seven public parks in the city would also be upgraded as part of the CGC program. This particular activity was inspired by the New Urban Agenda, the UN’s action blueprint for sustainable urban development that emphasizes the importance of safe, inclusive, and accessible green public spaces.

To help its parks conform to this vision, the municipality of Kabul has outlined a program of walkway upgrades within and around the park; grass and tree planting; well digging and implementation of an irrigation distribution system; electrical connection; upgrades to the boundary wall and installation of entrance gates; and the installation of benches throughout the park.

 

What is UN-Habitat?

An essential program of the United Nations, UN-Habitat works toward a better urban future. It aims to promote and develop human settlements that are socially and environmentally sustainable and to achieve adequate shelter for all global citizens. UN-Habitat has been working to fulfil this vision ever since it was mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1978.

Even at that time, urbanization issues relating to the uncontrolled growth of cities were already apparent. Since then, cities around the world have continued to experience unprecedented change. Today, the challenges—demographic, environmental, economic, social, and spatial—that the world’s urban areas are now facing are extreme. In view of the projection that 60 percent of the global population will be living in cities by the year 2030, it is clear that UN-Habitat’s work is more vital than ever before.

To guide its vision for well-planned, well-governed, and efficient cities and human settlements that offer all their residents adequate housing, infrastructure, employment opportunities, and basic services, UN-Habitat works with a medium-term strategy approach. Every six years, the organization develops a new strategic plan that provides continuity with the previous plan while facilitating an adaptable and effective response to emerging urban trends and offering opportunities for the incorporation of lessons learned from previous plans.

At present, UN-Habitat is working with a strategic plan that covers the years from 2014 to 2019. The seven focus areas of this plan are: urban legislation, land, and governance; urban planning and design; urban economy; the provision of basic services in urban areas; housing and slum upgrading; risk reduction and rehabilitation in urban areas; and research and capacity development. The first four areas are of particular importance in this iteration of the strategic plan, as they have been neglected in previous years in favor of other, higher-priority objectives.

How Is the ARTF Supporting Agriculture in Afghanistan?

ARTFlogoAs one of the largest international entities funding Afghanistan’s ongoing rebuilding and development process, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) is committed to investing in projects that will make a real difference in the lives of ordinary Afghans. At present, one of the most important focus areas for ARTF support is agriculture.

Contributing 31% of Afghanistan’s GDP and employing an incredible 59% of its labor force, the agricultural sector is a critical component of Afghanistan’s future economic prosperity. Ensuring that it is properly financed is therefore a major priority for ARTF. Read on to learn more about some of the active agriculture portfolio investment projects that are currently receiving ARTF support.

 

On Farm Water Management Project

In an arid country like Afghanistan, where only about 12% of the land is arable, irrigation and water management initiatives are absolutely critical. However, years of conflict have left most of the modern irrigation systems throughout Afghanistan in a state of neglect and disrepair, making it difficult for farmers to achieve the levels of agricultural productivity needed to drive economic growth and ensure food security.

The primary objective of the On Farm Water Management Project is to enhance the efficiency of water use in targeted areas in order to improve agricultural productivity. Under the umbrella of the project, physical improvements of tertiary irrigation facilities (on individual farms) are being carried out, thus providing farmers with an improved, reliable, and equitable way to distribute irrigation water on their lands.

The project is expected to result in a 25% increase in water use efficiency in project areas and a 30% increase in the productivity of agricultural crops. In addition, water user organizations will likely be better able to carry out operations and maintenance tasks, and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock will have more capacity to plan, implement, and monitor future projects in this area.

Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Project

Through the Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Project, the ARTF is addressing the pressing question of irrigation and water management in Afghan agriculture on a larger scale than the On Farm Water Management Project described above. Despite recent achievements supported by other funders, there is still a huge unmet demand for irrigation rehabilitation all across Afghanistan. Prior to 1979, there were about 3.2 million hectares of irrigated area, but in 2007, that figure had fallen to just 1.8 million hectares. Between 2007 and 2011, close to 0.9 million hectares were rehabilitated, but there is still considerable work to do.

The Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Project aims to close this gap by providing support for the rehabilitation of irrigation systems serving about 300,000 hectares of land. In addition, the project will invest in the design and construction of several small, multi-purpose dams and associated irrigation distribution systems in closed river basins. Other elements of the project include the establishment of facilities and services for hydro-meteorological work, and project management and capacity-building initiatives in several communities. The project is expected to yield a 15% increase in total irrigated area and a minimum 20% increase in crop yields in the newly rehabilitated zones.

 

National Horticulture and Livestock Project

The National Horticulture and Livestock Project works toward the ARTF’s overarching goal of increasing production of horticultural products and improving animal production and health. The main objective is to train farmers in improved production practices and to support them as they adopt these practices on an ongoing basis. Practically speaking, this involves a gradual rollout of farmer-centric agricultural services systems complemented by targeted investment support. The scope of the project has been expanding as conditions warrant, but has the capacity to serve up to 100 focus districts across 22 provinces.

Some of the expected results of the program include 6,000 hectares of rehabilitated orchards benefiting 30,000 people and the creation of 8,000 new orchards with a survival rate of at least 70%. In addition, close to 100,000 farmers will receive training in a horticulture production practice. Project managers also anticipate that 50% of targeted farmers will make regular livestock inoculation a part of their practice.

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Afghanistan Agriculture Inputs Project

The main objective of the Afghanistan Agriculture Inputs Project is to build and strengthen institutional capacity so that certified wheat seed can be sustainably produced and so that farmers can be sure the seed, pesticides, and other inputs they use are safe and reliable. With that goal in mind, the project works to boost capacity in the value chain for the production of certified wheat seed, and to prevent the marketing and sale of any pesticides and fertilizers that are banned, hazardous, sub-standard, or otherwise unreliable. The project also seeks to reduce the risk that plant quarantine pests will be introduced or spread throughout the country, and to facilitate farmers’ access to reliable, high-quality agricultural inputs. Expected results include higher annual production of certified seed, the development of an improved listing of plant quarantine pests and diseases, and testing of at least 180 product samples for pesticide residues.

What Is the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership?

With a history stretching back thousands of years and a landscape full of ancient monuments and cultural sites, Afghanistan truly is a dream destination for archaeologists. However, factors like challenging environmental conditions, transportation and accessibility issues, and security concerns also mean that the country isn’t the easiest place to conduct fieldwork.

To overcome these obstacles and continue the quest to explore Afghanistan’s treasure trove of cultural heritage, a team of resourceful, US-based archaeologists is employing a surprising new tool: satellites. Drawing on satellite imagery and other geospatial technologies, the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership is uncovering never-before-seen archaeological sites across Afghanistan and forging a new path for archaeological research and cultural heritage preservation monitoring in difficult-to-access regions. Read on to learn more about this exciting project.

 

What is the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership?

The Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership (AHMP) is a three-year project that aims to use imagery from satellites and other geospatial technologies to build a comprehensive database, known as a geographic information systems (GIS) database, of archaeological sites in Afghanistan. The AHMP is based at the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes, a department at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and is supported by grants from the US State Department and the US Embassy in Kabul. Other partners working on the project include the Afghan Institute of Archaeology in Kabul and Kabul Polytechnic University.

 

How did the AHMP get started?

The AHMP was first conceived by Dr. Gil Stein, a University of Chicago archaeologist and the director of the Oriental Institute. Concerned about the impact that years of conflict, development pressures, and environmental challenges could have on Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, Dr. Stein and other cultural heritage experts met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in 2014. Ghani, who holds a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University and served as the top anthropologist for the World Bank, called for a unified and detailed effort to discover, identify, and catalog cultural relics from the country’s past; in doing so, he emphasized how critical cultural heritage is to economic development and the creation of a strong national identity. The following year, Dr. Stein’s team received a grant from the State Department, along with access to US government satellite imagery that is typically a full order of magnitude more precise than most images that are publicly available.

 

What are the goals of the AHMP?

Some of the top priorities for the AHMP team include:

Comprehensive inventory and mapping efforts—The backbone of the AHMP project is the creation of a comprehensive database of archaeological sites in Afghanistan, both those that have already been identified and cataloged (specifically, those that are listed in the Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan, a 1982 publication serving as a primary resource for the AHMP project), and those that are previously unmapped. High-resolution geospatial datasets allow AHMP researchers to positively identify sites with exceptional accuracy, as well as offering important insights into how Afghanistan’s rapidly expanding cities and development projects are affecting areas of archaeological importance.

Monitoring site threats and destruction—Unfortunately, many archaeological sites in Afghanistan have already suffered as a result of conflict, looting, mining development, and urbanization. The AHMP aims to document and analyze the types and severity of destruction that have affected key archaeological sites, as well as examine areas where site preservation and protection efforts have proved effective. To accomplish these objectives, AHMP researchers work with time-based images, available through an online repository at the US State Department, to look at how sites have changed over time and to examine what risks might still be facing them.

Training Afghan researchers in the use of GIS technology—An important priority for the AHMP is providing on-the-ground training in geographic information systems (GIS) technology to Afghan archaeologists and cultural heritage specialists. To achieve this, scholars from the Oriental Institute worked with the GIS faculty at Kabul Polytechnic University, which has two GIS laboratories at its disposal. The goal of these training programs is to give archaeologists new tools to use in their work and teaching and to help introduce students in the urban planning and mining sectors to the importance of heritage preservation.

 

What discoveries have been made by the AHMP so far?

By late 2017, the AHMP had already made significant progress, with team members announcing that their work with satellite imagery had more than tripled the number of Afghan archaeological features that had previously been published. Some of the most exciting discoveries include the identification of 119 caravanserais—inns with courtyards—in the deserts of southern Afghanistan. Dated from the late 16th and early 17 centuries, these mudbrick buildings were important roadside stops for travelers along historic trade routes. The caravanserais are spaced roughly 20 kilometers from each other, which would have been about the distance that a large caravan could travel in a day.