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.

These 6 Afghan Sites Have Appeared on the WMF Watch List

WMFlogoA private, non-profit organization headquartered in New York City, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) has been working to preserve, protect, and raise awareness about the world’s significant cultural and artistic treasures for more than five decades. One of the most important programs the WMF operates is the World Monuments Watch: launched in 1995, this global initiative identifies cultural heritage sites that are at risk and works to help raise the financial and technical support needed to preserve them.

To date, six cultural sites in Afghanistan have made appearances on the World Monuments Watch list. Read on to learn more about these treasured, but imperiled, historic locations.

 

Murad Khane, Kabul (2008 World Monuments Watch).

The story of the rehabilitation of the historic district of Murad Khane in the heart of Kabul is truly inspiring. When Murad Khane was included on the World Monuments Watch list in 2008, the neighborhood was in devastating shape after decades of conflict and neglect: beautiful historic buildings had fallen into complete disrepair, and the entire area was covered by garbage. Fortunately, the non-profit cultural organization Turquoise Mountain was at that time in the process of launching a comprehensive restoration project aimed at bringing Murad Khane back to its former glory. With the help and skills of thousands of local community members, Turquoise Mountain completely cleaned up the neighborhood, hauling away tons upon tons of garbage and carefully restoring the beautiful historic buildings that lay underneath. Today, Murad Khane is a vibrant artistic neighborhood, and the restoration project earned Turquoise Mountain the 2013 UNESCO Award of Distinction.

Murad Khane

Image courtesy Canada in Afghanistan | Flickr

 

Tepe Narenj, Kabul area (2008 World Monuments Watch).

In the Zanburak Mountains just south of Kabul sits Tepe Narenj, a Buddhist monastery established in the fifth or sixth century. An important testament to historic Buddhist influence in the region, Tepe Narenj is comprised of a number of stupas (in Sanskrit, a “stupa” is a mound-like structure containing relics, which are often the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns), individual meditation cells, several chapels, and numerous statues of the Buddha and Boddhisatva figures. Tepe Narenj was believed to have been destroyed by armies in the ninth century, but it was later rediscovered and was the first site in Afghanistan to be excavated after the Soviet conflict. The site was placed on the watch list as it is at serious risk of damage due to exposure to the elements.

 

Ghazni Minarets, Ghazni (2004 World Monuments Watch).

Soaring 20 meters above the arid landscape at the foot of the Hindu Kush Mountains, the minarets of Ghazni are a striking reminder of the great Ghaznavid Empire, which ruled a huge portion of Central Asia during the 11th and 12th centuries. The minarets are constructed of fired mud brick and covered with highly detailed terracotta decorations, including geometric designs and verses from the Quran. Today, the minarets themselves are structurally sound, though subject to periodic flooding, but the terracotta decorations are rapidly deteriorating as a result of exposure to rain and snow. Since the Ghazni minarets were placed on the watch list, a laser scan survey of the towers was conducted by architects from the US National Park Service’s Historic American Building Survey: this has provided a valuable record of existing conditions, and can serve as an important resource for future preservation efforts.

 

Buddhist Remains of Bamiyan, Bamiyan (2008 World Monuments Watch).

The 2001 destruction of the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan—colossal, extraordinary sculptures carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Bamiyan Valley—was a huge blow for cultural preservationists in Afghanistan. Today, efforts are being made to preserve other aspects of the site, and discussions are ongoing about the possibility of rebuilding the Buddhas. Learn more about what’s happening in the Bamiyan area here.

 

Haji Piyada Mosque, Balkh (2006 World Monuments Watch).

Also known as “Noh Gumbad” for the nine cupolas that once covered it, the Haji Piyada Mosque is not only Afghanistan’s oldest known Islamic building, it’s one of the earliest structures in the eastern Islamic world. Built in the late ninth century, the mosque is modest in size but architecturally rich, even though the cupolas have collapsed and only one supporting arch still stands. Its age makes the Haji Piyada Mosque a structure of unparalleled cultural and architectural significance, but at the time of its placement on the watch list, the structure was highly vulnerable to erosion, looting, and lack of proper maintenance. To assist with preservation efforts, the World Monuments Fund worked with UNESCO and other agencies to develop and implement a long-term conservation plan, which was completed in 2010.

 

Image courtesy Richard Layman | Flickr

 

Old City of Herat, Herat (1998 and 2010 World Monuments Watch).

A key stop along the ancient Silk Road, Herat is home to a spectacular assortment of medieval Islamic buildings, including the Qala Ikhtyaruddin citadel and the famous Friday Mosque. However, the entire Old City has suffered as a result of military conflict, looting, earthquakes and, more recently, pressures brought on by rapid development and intensive construction. Alongside the World Monuments Fund, many other organizations are working to implement protection and preservation efforts in Herat, most notably the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.