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.

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.