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Afghanistan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment

Submitted by UN Environment ... 21st January 2015 9:14


In the capital of Afghanistan there is a saying: May Kabul be without gold rather than without snow. For most of the country’s people the land, its biological resources and its ecological processes are the source of their livelihood and the foundation for their existence. Apart from the country’s most arid deserts and frozen mountains, virtually the entire land surface of Afghanistan has been used for centuries – whether for local farming or, on a more wide-reaching basis, for livestock grazing, fuelwood collection and hunting.

Tragically, the combined pressures of warfare, civil disorder, lack of governance and drought have taken a major toll on Afghanistan’s natural and human resources. These impacts have exacerbated a more general and long-standing process of land degradation, evidence of which is apparent throughout much of the country. As the country’s natural resource base has declined, its vulnerability to natural disasters and food shortages has increased.

Clearly, effective natural resource management and rehabilitation must be a national priority if Afghanistan is to achieve long-term social stability and prosperity. Mitigation of environmental problems and protection of the environment will also support sustainable rural development and enhance job creation. 

Background and scope of assessment

During the Bonn negotiations in late 2001, a new Afghanistan Interim Administration was formed. The international community expressed its readiness to support the new government of Afghanistan led by Chairman Hamid Karzai.

The high priorities of the new government have been to reestablish security and the rule of law, ensure the safe return of refugees and to assist internally displaced people. Humanitarian aid, new infrastructure and investments are now helping to create stability and income opportunities in Afghanistan.

Following the Loya Jirga in June 2002, the newly established Ministry for Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment was given a leadership role in integrating environmental recovery and rehabilitation into the reconstruction process. As environment is always a cross-cutting issue, many other sector ministries, as well as regional and local levels of administration, also have key environmental obligations and responsibilities.

The scope of UNEP’s post-conflict environmental assessment in Afghanistan has included such vital environmental issues as pollution ‘hotspots’ in the urban environment, surface and ground water resources, deforestation, waste and sanitation, air quality, and desertification. The status of various protected areas was also investigated. Environmental improvements cannot be made without proper institutional arrangements. Therefore this report also addresses issues like environmental impact assessment, framework environmental laws, regional cooperation and Afghanistan’s participation in international environmental conventions.

General findings and recommendations

In earlier post-conflict environmental assessments, UNEP has typically focused on war- related damage and environmental impacts from chemicals released from bombed targets. The picture in Afghanistan is different. The most serious issue in Afghanistan is the long- term environmental degradation caused, in part, by a complete collapse of local and na- tional forms of governance. 

Responsibility for implementing the recommendations contained in this report lies with the people of Afghanistan and their government institutions. The newly established Ministry of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment must play a critical role in planning and preparing new laws, standards and activities to address the environmental management, protection and rehabilitation needs of the country. This should occur in full cooperation with the key sector ministries responsible for implementation, including Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Public Health, Rural Development, Urban Development and Housing, Water and Power, and Mines and Industry. Mechanisms for planning, environmental educa- tion, public participation and enforcement must be developed between the various sector ministries and their partners at the central, regional and local levels.

It is important also to recognize that long-term improvements in the environmental conditions of the country cannot be achieved without sustained technical and financial assistance from the international community. As part of this assessment, a thorough analysis was made on how Afghanistan could benefit from becoming an active partner in various multilateral environmental agreements, in particular the clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. Many of the solutions, like river basin management and control of the illegal timber trade, will also require improved regional, cross-border cooperation.