Spotlight on the First Afghan Youth Representative to the UN

For young people in Afghanistan, June 19, 2018, was an important day. Following a rigorous open competition, Ramiz Bakhtiar was selected to become the country’s first-ever Youth Representative to the United Nations. Read on to learn more about the UN Youth Delegate Program, why Afghanistan’s participation is important, and what’s ahead for the new Youth Representative.

What is the UN Youth Delegate Program and how does it work?

The United Nations welcomes and encourages youth to participate in its decision-making activities. The Youth Delegate Program was established to serve as the designated path for participation. At the global level, the program is coordinated by the Focal Point on Youth. However, it is up to each individual Member State of the UN to establish their own national youth delegate programs, and to choose or decide who will act as the youth representatives for their country. In countries where no program to select youth delegates exists, it may be necessary to lobby to have one created.

The roles and responsibilities of youth representatives may vary depending on the countries they represent, but most representatives are involved in matters such as providing input to their nation’s official UN delegations on youth-related issues and participating in the general work of their delegations. In addition, youth delegates are able to participate in any of the UN’s intergovernmental meetings, including the General Assembly, the functional Commissions of the Economic and Social Council, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and the Human Rights Council.

How was Afghanistan’s first Youth Representative to the UN selected?

Prior to 2018, Afghanistan did not have a national youth delegate program. The development and implementation of such a program required the effort and commitment of a number of different partners. The Government of the Netherlands served as the program sponsor and worked with groups including Afghanistan’s ministries of higher education, economy, and information and culture; the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; and Afghans for Progressive Thinking, an Afghan youth leadership organization, to establish the criteria for the program and create the selection process.

The open competition for Afghanistan’s inaugural youth delegate program attracted 60 applicants from all over the country. The candidates completed a multi-stage selection process that involved both video and in-person interviews. Finalists participated in a live debate hosted by the Bayat Foundation that took place on June 19, 2018, at the Bayat Media Center in Kabul. Attending the debate were the four members of the selection committee: Stef Blok, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs; Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan; Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister of Economic Cooperation; and Sofia Ramyar, the executive director Afghans for Progressive Thinking, a professional organization for youth.

Following the debate, Ramiz Bakhtiar was selected as Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the United Nations for 2018. The 28-year-old put himself through school by working as a street vendor, and today he is employed by the Dubai-based media firm MOBY Group. Bakhtiar is passionate about highlighting the struggles that Afghan youth face today and helping to build a brighter future for his contemporaries.

Why is it important for Afghanistan to have a Youth Representative to the UN?

According to the United Nations Population Fund, nearly two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population, or 63.7%, are under 25 years of age. Representing the promise of a new Afghanistan, this large, emerging cohort seeks peace, stability, and prosperity, but must contend with significant challenges, particularly when it comes to essential needs like health, education, and employment. Having a Youth Representative to the UN—someone like Ramiz Bakhtiar—who can show global leaders the face of Afghanistan’s new generation and give a voice to the unique issues they are facing—is an important way for Afghan youth to gain recognition and support in the fight for a better future.

What’s ahead for Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN?

One of Ramiz Bakhtiar’s most important responsibilities as Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN will be to meet and engage with other young Afghans and hear their ideas for building a country that is tolerant, peaceful, and forward-looking. Specifically, Bakhtiar will canvass his peers for their views on the UN, politics, and what role the UN should play in Afghanistan’s future development. Social media platforms are expected to be a key part of Bakhtiar’s efforts to engage young people in Afghanistan, gather their opinions, and share his activities.

So far, Bakhtiar has already made significant progress in engaging with Afghanistan’s young people, and in September 2018, he became the first-ever Afghan youth to address the United Nations Security Council during the 73rd General Assembly session. In his address, Bakhtiar highlighted the problems facing Afghan youth and potential solutions. He also described his peers’ goal of transforming Afghanistan into a hub of regional connectivity and a rich cultural, artistic, and historic resource for the world.

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.