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Afghan Cities for Life: Respecting and Protecting the Environment for Healthy and Livable Cities

Submitted by UN Environment ... 12th May 2015 8:14
screen shot 2015-07-17 at 10 - climate adaptation.

Afghanistan lies on two main fault lines that have the potential to rupture and inflict massive damage. Lack of building standards, compliance, and enforcement of regulations mean the majority of buildings will not withstand even a moderate earthquake. When one strikes, there will be massive loss of life and undermine the urban development efforts to date. Click to enlarge


Understanding what the urban environment is and how it impacts the well-being and quality of life of urban Afghans is crucial to ensuring that environmental issues are properly accounted for and incorporated into urban planning and management. This article examines the key environmental challenges facing Afghan cities, including services such as transport, water, and sanitation; natural resource management; and climate change and disaster risk reduction (DRR). It demonstrates that the urban environment is not an optional ‘add on’ but cuts across all aspects of how to plan and manage Afghanistan’s urbanization process. Three components of urban environment in Afghanistan can be identified: urban services, cities and the natural environment, and changing climate and DRR. 

Challenges and Opportunities

Understanding and knowledge – including complete data – about urban environmental issues is a major challenge to ensuring that urban environment is adequately addressed in urban planning and management. In addition, ensuring that all relevant organizations from both urban and environment sectors are engaged in the dialogue on identifying and addressing urban environmental issues is extremely important. In Afghanistan, current urban sprawl and conditions of environmental degradation are a challenge to ensuring that cities are healthy and sustainable environments for current and future residents.

The fact that Afghanistan currently has a very low level of urbanization provides the opportunity to guide urban growth over the coming decades in an environmentally sensitive manner. Expansion and infill should be guided in a way that allocates for sustainable services, reduces environmental degradation and provides ample space for parks and other green areas. The planning and design of cities also have an important role to play in 'future-proofing' cities: building the resiliency of the infrastructure and people in urban areas today to cope with a changing climate in the future. 

The picture shows various elements that needs to be taken into consideration when planning for sustainable cities. Click to enlarge.

Why adaptation to climate change is important

As climate change has the potential to increase the frequency and severity of natural disasters, cities need to understand and plan for these increased risks. Many Afghan cities are already at risk for flooding, earthquakes, droughts and landslides and disaster management plans have currently assessed these risks and vulnerabilities. According to the National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) for Afghanistan, 14 provinces have a high risk of drought, 9 provinces have a high risk of flooding and 9 provinces have a high risk of avalanche. However with both increased urbanization and changes in climate, there is the potential for increased prevalence and therefore natural disaster plans and climate change adaptation plans should be updated to recognize these increased threats and vulnerabilities. 

Ways Forward

- For the transport sector, focus on mobility, not cars and roads. Work with private sector to expand shared transport options, and recognize that transportation planning in Afghan cities must account for gender differences in the use of transport, promoting safe, affordable and viable options for Afghan women and girls;

- Incorporate urban environmental issues into urban planning including urban design and landscape that promote long-term solutions (i.e. the current tree-planting initiative in Kabul will contribute to improving local climate and air pollution over a long time period);

- Promote sustainable waste collection and disposal to reduce pollution and improve health;

- Improve knowledge and understanding of city-regions and undertake planning to nurture improved connectivity and environmental balance between cities and their surrounding regions;

- Raise awareness of climate change and disaster risks in urban areas and undertake climate adaptation and risk reduction efforts such as green spaces to reduce flooding along urban river basins, and improve (seismic) building codes and their enforcement;

- Explore examples of environmentally-friendly building practices in Afghanistan and the region, including solutions used by previous generations of Afghans drawing from a rich heritage of low-energy living.