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.

 

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  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.

 

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  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.

Spotlight on the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) has been in existence for more than 35 years. Its goal is to bring support and stability to Afghans who are struggling with the impact of war and violence on their country and their communities.

The organization is committed to maintaining operations in the country as long as necessary. The SCA currently serves as the second-largest channel for the development aid that is provided to Afghanistan by the Swedish government. Read on to learn more about the SCA and its activities in Afghanistan.

 

What is the SCA all about?

SCAlogoThe SCA was originally founded in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the early 1980s, the SCA was largely focused on raising funds for humanitarian support. It engaged in relief activities like providing essential health care and education to refugees and residents of occupied Afghanistan.

Over time, the SCA gradually expanded its work beyond the delivery of basic humanitarian services. It became a development organization with a much broader focus.

Today, the SCA’s vision is of an Afghanistan that is free from poverty, violence, and discrimination, where all citizens can live in dignity and enjoy equal opportunity and social justice. Supporting this vision are the SCA’s 12,000 members and individual donors in Sweden as well as the more than 6,000 Afghan employees who implement the SCA’s programs in 14 Afghan provinces.

 

What kinds of activities and programs does the SCA operate?

The organization aims to support some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable groups, including children, people with disabilities, and rural and remote communities. The SCA operates programs and activities across four major focus areas:

 

  1. Healthcare

Access to healthcare and health outcomes in Afghanistan have improved in recent years. Despite this, the country’s health situation still remains a major challenge.

At present, the SCA is responsible for providing healthcare services and building healthcare capacity in Laghman province and Wardak province. In Afghanistan, it is typical for basic healthcare to be provided primarily by non-governmental organizations on a province-by-province basis.

Particular initiatives include conducting community-based health and hygiene education campaigns; training more health care providers, particularly midwives; and increasing health care access for people with disabilities.

Highlights from 2017 include: performing 2.6 million patient consultations; giving immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis b, and polio to 50,000 children under the age of 5; providing maternal care to more than 44,000 women; and establishing 31 more health clinics in the two provinces.

 

  1. Community Governance

In the Afghan countryside, many local communities have severely restricted opportunities for residents to effect change, make their voices heard, and assert their rights. This is the result of conflicts, corruption, and mismanagement at the municipal level.

To help empower these communities and their residents, the SCA works all around Afghanistan. It builds the capacity of local decision-making bodies and provides education and training to local authorities.

Highlights from 2017 include: providing support to nearly 370 community development councils, which in turn implemented 65 local projects; offering training in service delivery and community rights to members of local government; and conducting social audits of community projects in three provinces.

 

  1. Rural Livelihood

Rapid urbanization has taken place in Afghanistan over the last decade. Despite this, an estimated 75 percent of the country’s population still lives and works in rural areas. Unfortunately, many of these rural citizens, especially those in remote or isolated communities, are among Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.

As a result of conflict, difficult environmental conditions, and natural disasters, poverty is endemic in most rural areas. As a result, the potential for long-term self-sufficiency is very limited.

To help rural citizens build secure livelihoods for themselves and their families and access new sources of income, the SCA facilitates the formation of self-help groups. These groups can save money together, develop business partnerships, and exchange knowledge and skills.

The SCA also provides practical, hands-on training in potentially income-generating activities such as poultry farming, vegetable farming, soap making, tailoring, and carpet weaving.

Highlights from 2017 include: forming over 200 new self-help groups; establishing 32 village-based saving and loan associations; granting micro-loans to more than 2,500 rural households; conducting an impact study revealing that previous loan recipients increased their household income by almost 29 percent.

 

  1. Education

Education is one of Afghanistan’s most important priorities. The SCA is just one of many organizations working to improve access to and quality of education for children all across the country. As a result of concerted efforts by these organizations and the government of Afghanistan, more Afghan children are attending school than ever. At present, nearly 70,000 children go to SCA-run schools.

Highlights from 2017 include: a 5 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in SCA primary schools; construction of seven new school buildings, 20 washrooms, and one resource center; the provision of special education to more than 1,600 children and adults with disabilities; and mainstream school inclusion for 600 children with physical disabilities and 2,000 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

How Is the Bayat Foundation Helping Afghans With Deafness?

bayatfoundationlogoFrom October 1-5, 2018, the Bayat Foundation proudly hosted the annual Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission on the grounds of the Bayat Media Center in Kabul. Now in its fifth consecutive year, the Hearing Care Mission is one of the most important initiatives in Afghanistan that supports people affected by deafness or hearing impairments. Read on to learn more about this annual event that provides hope and healing to thousands of Afghans.

 

What is the Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission?

Established in 2014 by the Bayat Foundation and the Starkey Hearing Foundation, the Hearing Care Mission works to bring the gift of hearing to the many thousands of Afghans who are living with deafness or hearing impairments. Held for several days each year, the Hearing Care Mission provides attendees with free hearing screenings, hearing aids, and other treatments and services. Bayat Foundation founder Dr. Ehsan Bayat estimates that since it was first launched, the Hearing Care Mission has served more than 7,000 people.

 

Why is the Hearing Care Mission important?

Deafness and other hearing impairments are a serious problem in Afghanistan. Estimates from the Afghanistan National Association of the Deaf suggest that approximately 34,000 children between the ages of seven and 18 are affected by deafness, blindness, or both. Unfortunately, deafness faces considerable stigma in Afghan society: people don’t always recognize it as a physical impairment, instead often believing that it is a reflection of a developmental disability or other cognitive impairment.

In addition, in a country where even basic health care can be difficult to come by, it is challenging for Afghans living with deafness to access treatment and services, let alone educational options that can accommodate their unique needs. For many Afghans affected by deafness, the Hearing Care Mission is therefore a rare opportunity to have their hearing needs attended to by medical experts, and to interact with people who understand and are experienced at communicating with people who are deaf.

 

What happened at this year’s Hearing Care Mission?

In 2018, the Hearing Care Mission opened with the October 1st Dedication Ceremony, which was attended by a number of senior Afghan government officials, NGO representatives, civic leaders, and other stakeholders. In his opening address, Dr. Bayat thanked the audience for their support and commitment to helping give the gift of hearing to thousands of Afghans.

During the five days of the Hearing Care Mission, a rigorous patient assessment and treatment process helped to deliver the best possible care to attendees. The process was overseen by several Bayat-Starkey Hearing Care Teams comprised of international audiologists and hearing care specialists, as well as trained and dedicated volunteers from the Bayat Foundation. Patients first underwent an intake process in which their vital signs were recorded and they received a thorough examination and cleaning of their ears and auditory system. Next, patients were given a set of fitted ear molds, made from clear and wear-resistant plastic, to house their new hearing devices.

After the intake process, patients were escorted by volunteers into the treatment area. Here, the Bayat-Starkey Hearing Care Teams fit each patient with personalized hearing aids. Provided completely free of charge, these devices allowed many of the patients to connect with the world through sound for the first time in their lives. At this year’s Hearing Care Mission, more than 1,240 people received care and treatment.

 

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Who is the Bayat Foundation’s partner on the Hearing Care Mission?

The Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission is a joint venture from the Bayat Foundation and its partner, the Starkey Hearing Foundation. As the philanthropic arm of Starkey Hearing Technologies, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of hearing aids, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has been working to give the gift of hearing to those in need for more than 30 years. The Foundation has worked than 100 countries around the world, collaborating with governments, non-profit organizations, and health leaders to help increase access to hearing healthcare services. The Foundation estimates that through its various initiatives, which include programs like the Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission, it has helped provide more than 1 million people with much-needed hearing support.

 

How does the Hearing Care Mission fulfill the Bayat Foundation’s objectives?

In addition to education, water projects, and family support, healthcare is one of the central pillars of the Bayat Foundation’s mission and activities. Recognizing that many Afghans, particularly in rural and remote communities, have difficulty accessing essential healthcare services, the Bayat Foundation works to improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare throughout the country. Some of the health-related initiatives that the Bayat Foundation has led in the past include: the construction of a brand-new maternity, neo-natal, and surgical hospital in Kabul; the operation of a vision care clinic that provided free glasses and other treatment to Afghans with visual impairments; and various donations to institutions like Kabul Medical University.