Factors Destroying the Environment in Afghanistan

by Sayed Hashmat (ELP 2004), Afghanistan

Image iconEng.Hashmat-ELP-2004-Participant-245x300_2.jpg Eng.Hashmat, ELP 2004 alum

Afghanistan is one of the countries that is located in central part of Asia. It is bordered by Iran on the west, Pakistan on the east and south, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan on the north and China (a narrow strip - Wakhan) in the north east. Its capital is Kabul. Afghanistan is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its total area is about 647,497 sq km1. War in Afghanistan during the late 20th century, caused substantial population displacement with millions of refugees fleeing into Pakistan and Iran. Generally, the regional ethnicity remains the same as it had been before the unrest.

Environmental problems being experienced in the country
If we were to compare the environmental situation of Afghanistan with other developing countries, the situation in Afghanistan is indeed terrible. The natural environment has been significantly damaged because of natural disasters such as drought, and three continuous decades of civil war. In the past decades, there has been a lack of infrastructure development, unplanned increase of population with fragmented expansion and lack of law enforcement which has intensified problems. The people have low awareness about environmental issues. The government lacks the capacity to realize the importance of different environmental issues. Lack of understanding and ignorance of this vital issue has a negative impact on the whole nation. Environmental sustainability and protection will directly depend on strong leadership, sustainable management and continued follow up.

Causes and factors of these environmental problems in Afghanistan
In general, the destruction of the environment is brought about by two factors: (1) natural; and (2) human-induced.

Natural causes of environmental problems in the country
Afghanistan located in a mountainous and tropical area. The country is partially warm and dry, where the annual rainfall is significantly less than the average annual rainfall compared to the rest of the world. Most of the country in the southern, south western, western, and north consists of large plain deserts. Hence, the government needs to consider solutions for the revival of the pastures and forests.

Flood is the main natural factor which destroys agricultural lands and removes the surface soil. Also some times, land slides affect land and destroy houses in some places.

Human-induced causes of environmental problems in the country
Three decades of war has had a negative impact on the country’s environmental resources. In the past, there were different factors as to why environmental resources were not protected. First of all, the central government was not capable of controlling the destruction of the natural resources, intentionally or unintentionally carried out by the people. Secondly, there was no proper strategy or plan for protection of the environment. The third factor is the poor economy of the people which forces them to cut the forest and trees for fuel purposes. The fourth factor is the lack of social awareness among citizens about protection of their environment. As a result, in the absence of an efficient government with no proper reform strategy for social, political and environmental issues, there has been no growth or development.

For further information, outlined below are some human indicated factors.

Direct effects of human-centric activities on the environment:
Due to the limited availability of resources related to agriculture, livestock, fuel, construction, and other requirements, people tend to over extract natural resources leading to their destruction. On the other hand, the forests in our country are not in a good condition. In this context, the following elements are to be noted:

  1. Cutting down trees and the destruction of forests in order to access material for construction or fuel or illegal smuggling of timber
  2. Cutting down trees and the destruction of forests in order to have land for agricultural purposes, residential housing or for the creation of villages within forests
  3. Burning down rest of the forest which does not produce timber wood so that coal can be obtained from it
  4. Movement of pasture and cattle in the forests - especially goats that eat leaves, branches, and even skin of the trees, which is supposed to be very harmful to the forests
  5. Untimely grazing of animals
  6. Due to excessive numbers of herds or animals concentration, the soil surface becomes loose and highly prone to erosion by winds and rain. Thereby, no fertile soil is left for growing natural vegetation
  7. Smuggling of timber from the Kunar province through the Narang Valley into neighbouring country Pakistan; there is no re-plantation to make up for the loss of the cut trees
  8. The change of pastures into agricultural lands due to lack of good quality soil and other alternative sources of livelihoods
  9. Providing forage for livestock, stock of the meadows and piling up for winter season
  10. Utilization and exploitation of plants used by industry, including botanical herbs and medicines

Image iconKabul-people-mostly-using-cool-and-wood-for-heating-their-houses-and-causes-more-smoke_2.jpg People in Kabul mostly using coal and wood for heating their houses, leading to pollution.

Involvement of the government in environmental protection
NEPA or the National Environmental Protection Agency, established in 2005, is the only government agency related to environmental protection. An environmental law drafted by this institution was passed by the National Assembly in 2007 and issued by President Hamid Karzai. The law specifies the agency’s functions and responsibilities. NEPA serves as a policy maker on environmental issues; the agency is not directly involved in preserving or protecting of the environment. The role of NEPA is to regulate, coordinate, monitor and enforce the environmental law to protect national interests and benefit all citizens of Afghanistan. The agency is expected to play a major role in environmental protection and act as a focal point in dealing with environmental management.

Policies to be implemented by the government to address environmental issues
The environmental law of Afghanistan Official Gazette No. 912, dated 25 January 2007 was approved by the National Assembly. However, there are several challenges to enforce this law. There is a need for the government to implement practical steps to protect the environment.

Also, Article 15 in the constitution of Afghanistan mentions that the state shall be obligated to adopt necessary measures to protect and improve forests as well as the living environment. However, there is a need for application and follow up.

Proposal to the government to address environmental problems in the country
The Afghan government must consider the following points to address the problems related to the environment:

  • Natural resource management by supporting project classification, studies and design
  • Protection of environmental hotspots and national parks
  • Support community mobilization for clean energy utilization
  • Develop policies for waste management and provide training in waste management
  • Implement environmental education programs
  • Establish voluntary community groups
  • Develop publications and communication material like brochures that explains the value of the environment
  • Prevent logging in forests, smuggling of timber and hunting of wild animals
  • Prevent the import of old and second hand vehicles that cause the air pollution
  • Strengthen the capacities of the environmental protection agency

Conclusion:
Considering the present situation in Afghanistan, addressing the environmental problems in Afghanistan is one of the biggest challenges that will take years to be addressed by the Government of Afghanistan and the National Environmental Protection Agency. The government of Afghanistan should at least take the following steps:

  • Ask the international community for their support and assistance
  • Provide sustainable finance and technical support
  • Develop management capacity in the capital and provinces
  • Develop inter-ministerial environmental capacity building
  • Develop a curriculum for environmental education
  • Develop community-based natural resources management initiatives

 

1Wikipedia