ECOA Is an Afghan Environmental Organization You Need to Know about

ECOAIf Afghanistan is to have a stable and prosperous future, environmental conservation must be a vital part of the country’s ongoing development. This is the philosophy behind the Ecology and Conservation Organization of Afghanistan (ECOA), a fully Afghan-owned and -operated nonprofit NGO. Founded in 2010, ECOA works to protect and rehabilitate Afghanistan’s environment and alleviate poverty in the country through sustainable natural resource management and community-based development initiatives. Read on to learn more.

 

What are ECOA’s mission and vision?

“Protect, connect, and support” are the three key watchwords of ECOA’s mission. In order to secure a sustainable future for Afghanistan’s land and people, ECOA works to conserve biological diversity, promote the sustainable use of renewable natural resources, reduce pollution and wasteful consumption, and build sustainable livelihoods.

All of these efforts are geared toward realizing ECOA’s future vision of a prosperous Afghan society that embraces stewardship of and responsibility to nature. As ECOA imagines it, by 2050 Afghanistan will have accomplished a number of goals. First, it will have conserved biodiversity in all of its ecosystems and understood that economic development cannot come at the cost of a net loss of biodiversity while embracing and implementing sustainable social and economic patterns and eliminating—or mitigating—serious ecological threats.

 

Who runs ECOA?

While there are a number of environmental and conservation organizations operating in Afghanistan, ECOA is distinctive in that it is one of the few to be entirely Afghan-run. The organization’s core team consists of the following:

Sardar Amiri, founder and head of operations—Amiri is a native of Afghanistan’s Bamyan region. His passion for environmentalism was inspired in part by his love of the Baba mountains, where he loves to hike.

Islamudin Farhank, project support officer—Another Bamyan native, Farhank has a background in political science. He aims to use his knowledge to support environmental policymaking that benefits Afghanistan’s vulnerable communities.

Mohammad Din, finance officer—In addition to his passion for hiking and ecology, Din is dedicated to environmental conservation. He believes that preserving the environment is an essential part of preserving the wealth of current and future generations.

Habiba Amiri, executive director—A co-founding member of ECOA and a native of Bamyan, Amiri also enjoys the wilderness of the Baba Mountains. She is dedicated to improving family livelihoods through ECOA projects.

In addition to the operational team, ECOA is supported by a variety of donors and partners. These include Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Government of Finland, and the British Ecological Society.

 

What kinds of projects has ECOA implemented?

ECOA has created and carried out a wide range of projects since its establishment in 2010. In general, the organization’s approach prioritizes community participation: As it implements projects, ECOA typically takes on the role of facilitator, providing training, support, and coordination to communities in their conservation and environmental efforts.

These are some of the projects that ECOA has developed:

The Bamyan Environmental Conservation Center (BEC)—Currently in development, the BEC is a vital hub for all of ECOA’s activities. The multi-purpose indoor and outdoor space will serve as a nexus for environmental education and knowledge sharing tailored to the different knowledge, experience, and needs of diverse local stakeholders.

The BEC is home to a fully cataloged physical and online library on nature conservation and natural resource management; exhibition rooms for educational displays, workshops, discussions, and theater and film events; regular demonstrations of green technologies and sustainable livelihood options; and an herbarium and medicinal plant garden.

Beekeeping Empowerment Education Sustainability (BEES)—This project was implemented under the umbrella of a large-scale program targeting Bamyan’s agriculture sector. The aim of the program was to provide local farmers with innovative agricultural technologies and business support to help them transform their livelihoods. ECOA’s contribution involved working with a number of agriculture cooperatives to establish a community-based beekeeping industry, with the goal of alleviating poverty at the grassroots level. As with all of ECOA’s work, the BEES project sought to empower local community members by encouraging meaningful involvement at every stage, from sourcing raw materials to marketing the products of the beekeeping process.

The Darwin Initiative—As part of the Darwin Initiative, a mechanism funded by the UK government that helps emerging economies meet their Convention on Biological Diversity objectives, ECOA operated a program in the Bamyan region to help prevent environmental degradation and other problems through sustainable fuel interventions. Bamyan province is an important area for biodiversity as it is home to many unique species of plants, shrubs, and trees, but the rural people who live in the area use these species for firewood. This harvesting disrupts the natural structure of the plant community and can lead to serious environmental consequences; in addition, the open fires contribute to indoor air pollution and human health issues.

To help address this problem, ECOA implemented a number of sustainable fuel interventions, such as providing local communities with specially designed clean cookstoves as well as bio-briquettes and solar water heaters (to reduce the demand for firewood).

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.”

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.