Decades of conflict have taken an enormous toll on Afghanistan’s environment. The path to continued, sustainable development must include efforts to assess and repair ecological damage, which has an effect on everything from drinking water to clean air. One of the leaders of environmental philanthropy in Afghanistan is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which is supported by several European development partners, including the European Commission and Estonia’s Ministry of Environment.
UNEP began its work in Afghanistan in 2002, when the organization recognized the need for environmental improvements as a foundation for development. The nation has struggled not just with conflict, but also with frequent natural disasters, such as droughts and earthquakes. At the end of 2002, UNEP launched a comprehensive environmental assessment in conjunction with the Afghan government and leading ecology experts. This assessment found many challenges, including lowered water tables, dried wetlands, loss of vegetation, and decreases in animal diversity. UNEP answered the Afghan government’s call for assistance with setting up a national environmental agency and has since supported development through a number of targeted programs and initiatives.
UNEP’s Two Newest Projects in Afghanistan
This past September, UNEP launched two new programs in Afghanistan that are focused on biodiversity and water management. One project will involve close collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s Centre for Middle Eastern Plants, which will help bolster and rebuild biodiversity. The project involves reestablishing a National Botanic Garden in Afghanistan, as well as creating a Plant Portal that provides digital information about plant species living in the nation. The Plant Portal will provide links to databases maintained by research and education institutions around the world.
The second project involves a German non-governmental group called Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association that will work with communities in Kabul and Bamyan provinces to raise awareness about clean water issues. The organization will also team with government institutions to improve water resource management. As part of the project, three decentralized wastewater treatment (DEWATS) centers will be constructed, which will lead to better sanitation procedures. Certain civil societies and government partners will also receive comprehensive training on water and sanitation.
In September, UNEP also teamed with the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) in Afghanistan to celebrate the International Day of Peace at the seventh annual Peace Trek through the Shah Foladi Protected Area mountains. UNEP partners and children from Jawzari village hiked from the village over the ridgeline of the Koh-e-Baba Mountains holding peace flags. A village leader also spoke to the children present about the linkage between environmental conservation, peace, and natural resources.
Efforts to Lower Greenhouse Gas Emission in Afghanistan
UNEP hosted a Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS) workshop in collaboration with NEPA in July. Visiting expert Dr. Ian McGregor, a researcher at Australia’s University of Technology, Sydney, led the workshop, which included more than 25 Afghan government decision-makers, as well as local academics and representatives from the United Nations and other aid organizations. Over the course of two days, attendees explored ways of making development a low-emission process.
Around the globe, LEDS workshops look at the intersection of social, economic, and human development and how all three can happen without significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions. LEDS are critical for the future of Afghan development as the nation’s economy and population continues to grow and demand for natural resources rises. July’s workshop provided a space for anticipating issues and developing programs to address them before they become real problems.
Protecting Afghanistan’s Beautiful Landscape
In celebration of World Environment Day, which takes place in early June, UNEP and NEPA declared Shah Foladi the newest protected area of Afghanistan. This gorgeous stretch of landscape, located in the Hindu Kush mountain range, was chosen for its natural significance, as well as its cultural importance. The nearby city of Bamyan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Shah Foladi Valley is part of the larger Koh-e-Baba mountain range, which houses about 5,000 Afghans.
The activities surrounding World Environment Day included critical awareness programs in the Central Highlands. In addition to the declaration of Shah Foladi as a protected area, UNEP led a group of senior government officials on a field visit to Band-e-Amir and the Koh-e-Baba mountains. In addition, multiple conferences on climate change and ecological resilience were held in the provinces of Bamyan and Daikundi. Altogether, more than 150 government officials participated in these celebratory events. Afghanistan has used World Environment Day as a platform for raising public awareness of the importance of environmental conservation for many years. World Environment Day is a part of UNEP’s Building Environmental Resilience in Afghanistan (BERA) program.