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.”

What You Need to Know about the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

UNESCO logoIn 2015, the city of Bamiyan became the first urban center not only from Afghanistan, but from all of Central Asia, to become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). This unique global network fosters and facilitates cooperation between its members as they work to invest in creativity in order to drive sustainable urban development, social inclusion, and a vibrant cultural life. Read on to learn more about the UCCN’s mission and activities, and about Bamiyan’s membership in the network.

 

What is the UNESCO Creative Cities Network?

The UCCN is an international network of cities that have identified creativity as a key strategic factor in promoting sustainable urban development and are actively investing in local creative initiatives to help bring economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits to their residents. In other words, the UCCN’s member cities place creative and cultural industries at the center of their local development plans and are interested in cooperating at the international level to share knowledge and best practices and develop fruitful partnerships.

Launched in 2004, the UCCN has seen remarkable growth over the years. Today, the network comprises 180 cities from 72 countries all around the world—from Adelaide to Zahlé—and serves as an important partner for UNESCO in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that drive the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UCCN covers seven creative fields, including crafts and folk art, film, design, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music.

 

What are the UCCN’s objectives?

As outlined in its mission statement, the UCCN was created to help fulfill a number of key objectives, including the following:

Cooperation—Because knowledge sharing and partnerships are vital for productive growth, the UCCN aims to promote and strengthen international cooperation among its member cities.

Creative initiatives—The UCCN aims to support and stimulate member cities’ initiatives that emphasize creativity as an essential component of urban development (these initiatives often involve local partnerships between the public and private sectors and civil society).

Cultural production—Cultural activities, goods, and services are an important part of a thriving creative economy. As such, the UCCN aims to strengthen their creation, production, distribution, and dissemination within and beyond member cities.

Opportunity creation—The UCCN aims to develop and support creative and innovative hubs in order to broaden opportunities for cultural sector professionals and creators.

Access—For creative and cultural initiatives to make a true difference to a city’s social fabric, they must be accessible to all residents. A key UCCN objective is therefore to facilitate vulnerable and marginalized populations’ access to and participation in their city’s cultural life.

Integration—The UCCN supports the full and comprehensive integration of culture and creativity into its member cities’ development strategies and plans.

 

 

What actions and initiatives does the UCCN work on?

For maximum impact, the UCCN works to implement its objectives at both the city level and the international level. Particular areas of action the UCCN focuses on include the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and best practices among member cities; the development of pilot projects, partnerships, and initiatives that bring together the public sector, the private sector, and civil society; exchange programs and networks for artists and other creative professionals; research and studies on the experience of member cities and their participation in the network; policy creation for sustainable urban development; and other activities that build awareness of the UCCN and its mission.

 

Why is creativity important for cities?

The UCCN strongly believes that people experience culture and creativity primarily on a local level. Given that cities are, by definition, the principal breeding grounds where cultural and creative industries and emerge and develop, those cities that allow these industries to thrive are working towards a future in which sustainable development supports and enriches the lives of all citizens. Vibrant cultural sectors help to foster social diversity and cohesion, intercultural dialogue, and well-being, all of which are vital to local urban populations, wherever they may be.

 

Why was Bamiyan chosen as a UCCN member city?

Bamiyan, which was chosen in the category of crafts and folk art, has a wealth of cultural assets and knowledge that have developed over millennia, particularly during the city’s time as a hub of trade, cultural exchange, and knowledge sharing in the days of the Silk Road. Today, Bamiyan is widely recognized as a trailblazer in revitalizing traditional crafts and folk art, and it prioritizes creativity and culture as important drivers for urban renewal and social betterment. As a member of the UCCN, Bamiyan’s plans include the establishment of the Bamiyan Cultural Center and the development of an initiative to map the city’s creative industries and to identify the highest-priority needs of local creators. Bamiyan is also supporting cooperative exchanges with other UCCN member cities in the same field and directing efforts to promote the city at the national and international levels as a hub of crafts and folk art.

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.

shepherd

 

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.