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Factors Destroying the Environment in Afghanistan

by Sayed Hashmat (ELP 2004), Afghanistan

Eng.Hashmat ELP 2004 Participant

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
Kabul people mostly using cool and wood for heating their houses and causes more smoke.

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

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



The Climate-Human-Wildlife Nexus

by Gbolagade A. Lameed (ELP 2014), Nigeria

The characteristics and interactions of habitats, wildlife, and human beings in order to achieve human development goals have been a major challenge in resource management. Such social behavior is described as a nexus of people living together in social groups. Birds, fish, and land-based animals (wildlife) are all under the threat of habitat and climate alteration due to human actions and reactions. Therefore, man most importantly, apart from the rest of the living world could be in peril due to various anthropogenic activities.

Climate change is predicted to cause a number of extreme weather events which could directly affect wildlife. The biggest concern is how changes in weather affect the habitats in which species coexist. It is estimated that 20-30% of plant and animal species will be at risk of extinction if the global temperature rises by more than 1.5 – 2.5°C. Sea level rise will reduce land area in some countries, which will instantly affect vegetation that is currently used for homes and as food by animals. Further changes in rainfall and temperature will affect many animal and plant species. Some species might be unable to adapt quickly enough and habitats might not be available for them to move into. Climate change will affect the whole chain of wildlife existence. An example – Sea turtles are affected throughout their lives by climate change: their sex is determined by the temperature of the sand in which eggs incubate (cooler sand produces males, too-hot sand produces females only). Not all change is bad. As we lose some species, new ones will arrive. Likewise, as temperatures continue to rise, animals will react by changing how they live, moving to new areas, or disappearing because they can’t find the type of home or food they need. For example, some fish can’t live in water that is very hot and won’t be able to find cooler refuges.

Figure 1: Annual Precipitation around the major ecosystems in the world

Figure 1: Annual precipitation around the major ecosystems in the world

Some species have, of course, adapted to changes in their climate before. However, it is believed that they need a longer period of time to adapt to change than human beings. One of the main concerns with species shifting from where they are now is that if climate change occurs very quickly, some wildlife may not be able to adapt and move quick enough and so may not survive.

The climate of the Earth is always changing. In the past, it was altered as a result of natural causes. Nowadays, changes largely occur as a result of human behavior in addition to natural changes in the atmosphere. A variety of human activities produce greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and hydrofluorocarbons (CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs), methane (CH4), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), thereby increasing the atmospheric concentration of emissions. These industrial emissions trap the sun’s heat and warm the planet.

Figure 2: Assimilated total Ozone released into the atmosphere around the world

Figure 2: Assimilated total Ozone released into the atmosphere around the world



Figure 3: Carbon dioxide quantification release into the atmosphere/ecosystem over the decades

Figure 3: Carbon dioxide quantification release into the atmosphere/ecosystem over the decades









Since pre-industrial times, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have gone up 30 percent, from 280 parts per million to more than 360 parts per million; in the last 35 years alone, CO2 levels increased over 12 percent. If this trend continues, CO2 concentrations will double by the end of the next century. Humans will continue to drive future climate change, with potentially catastrophic and irreversible consequences, if necessary action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gases.

Wildlife will face similar threats like others in the environment, because vegetation is land’s life-sustaining feature. Due to rapid temperature increase, the temperate and tropics are expected to push climate and vegetation zones northward over an astounding distance of 93 – 341 miles over 100 years. Many plant and animal species are unlikely to have time either to adapt to this warming, or to adjust their ranges to keep pace with the shift in climatic zones. Such dramatic shifts in vegetation could jeopardize animal populations, since abundant vegetation is critically important to all terrestrial wildlife. Climate change is the single greatest threat imperiling the entire National Wildlife Refuge system such as Game Reserves and National Parks. Large scale changes to ecosystems and habitats will reduce the Refuge System’s ability to support wildlife and visitor programs.

Figure 4: Heat transferable within the Continents of the World

Figure 4: Heat transferable within the continents of the World

Figure 5: Exchange of heat within the atmosphere/biosphere

Figure 5: Exchange of heat within the atmosphere/biosphere










The ways in which climate change affects wildlife are quite complex and all of them interact with each other. The impacts can be summarized as follows:

  1. Impacts on ‘climate space’
  2. Changes in the timings of seasonal events
  3. The impacts of extreme weather events
  4. Changes in community ecology
  5. Changes in land use and management
Figure 6: Current experience of desert encroachment and species loss are recent effects of climatic changes in the Tropics

Figure 6: Current experience of desert encroachment and species loss are recent effects of climatic changes in the Tropics

Figure 7: Visible impacts of the climate change on wildlife are: migration, lack of abode, mortality, poor food and different kind s of diseases

Figure 7: Visible impacts of climate change on wildlife are: migration, lack of abode, mortality, poor food and different kind s of diseases









A Strategic Action Plan has three key elements to manage the incessant climate change effect in the world (The US Fish and Wildlife Service, RSPB and IUCN 2012). They are as listed:

  • Adaptation – helping to reduce the impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats
  • Mitigation – taking actions to reduce greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere
  • Engagement – reaching out to Service employees, local, national and international partners in the public and private sectors, key constituencies and stakeholders and the general public to join forces and seek solutions to the challenges posed by climate change

In conclusion, nature conservation has a key role to play in addressing this issue. However, there is little current consensus on the practical measures needed to make the countryside ‘permeable’ to species moving in search of new climate space and habitats. Wildlife corridors have been proposed as one solution, but some recent studies suggested that they are unlikely to be effective for all species, and may even have perverse effects, acting as ‘predator traps’ or conduits for the spread of invasive species. One species’ corridor may be another’s barrier. Research is urgently needed to determine which groups of species rely on what type of features in the landscape for dispersal. In the meantime, some simple approaches can be taken to make the countryside more hospitable to wildlife. Increasing the numbers of hedges, ponds, water-filled ditches, patches of woodland, scrub and extensively managed grasslands and field margins will help.

Agri-environment schemes are perfectly placed to deliver these features within the farmed landscape. Ensuring that these schemes are fully funded and available to all land managers is a key challenge for any government that is keen to ensure that wildlife survives the impacts of climate change. Land-use planning can also help wildlife to respond to climate change by securing habitat and other features to support biodiversity in the early stages of new developments.

Mexico: Host of Conferences of Parties of 2 International Environmental Agreements

by Mireille Linares (ELP 2003), Mexico

Mireille Linares, ELP ’03, in 2010

Mireille Linares, ELP ’03 alum in COP 16

In 2010, Mexico hosted the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP 16) on climate change, working with its international partners to achieve the Cancun Agreements regarding mitigation pledges, a Green Climate Fund, a technology mechanism and a framework on adaptation, among others. As per global public opinion, those Agreements represented a significant step forward in the global response to the climate concern.

Four years later, during the Lima conference on climate change (COP 20) in 2014, the international community agreed on a roadmap to Paris in 2015, mainly to provide information about commitments countries will make before the next conference. However, major issues such as the differentiation between developing and developed countries or how much responsibility each country should take remained unresolved.

Last year, in 2014, Mexico showed its commitment towards two important international Conventions not only related to climate change, but also biological diversity.

During the 12th COP of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Korea, Mexico joined the international community in approving the “Pyeongchang Roadmap” to implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and to achieve the Aichi Targets. It was also announced that Mexico will be the host of the CBD-COP 13 in 2016.

The event will represent an opportunity to once again bring together the international community to the American Continent1 to agree on a common concern. Meanwhile, it will also challenge Mexico’s leadership. As a megadiverse country2 and founding partner in 2002 of the Group of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries, Mexico should think about how the next CBD-COP 13 will make a difference, since all our countries are failing to meet biodiversity targets.

This time, it is not enough that Mexico accomplishes its global responsibility by merely signing up to important international Conventions in a resolute manner or just by hosting the next Conference of the first global treaty which recognizes that conservation of biological diversity is “a common concern of humanity”, and an integral part of the development process.

Source: Own elaboration based on the CBD website information, available through the link: (latest review on January 2015).

Source: Author’s elaboration based on the CBD website information, available through the link: (latest review on January 2015).

The deficient progress registered in the instrumentation of the CBD and the Post 2015 development agenda bring up new liabilities for the international community. At this moment, it is inadequate to only recognize the countries’ commitment on a simple Joint Declaration or on a Roadmap that may in fact need rigorous implementation and progress monitoring.

In order to make a difference in 2016, Mexico should perhaps dedicate significant efforts to not only offering a suitable space for hosting the next Biodiversity Conference, but also promote greater action at this crucial international event.

Protecting biodiversity is vital because it is the basis for essential ecosystem services underlying human existence. Maybe, countries are failing to meet their targets because biodiversity conservation measures are poorly funded and often ignored, when infrastructure or industrial projects are more lucrative. However, biodiversity loss could be reduced if all countries better understand the value of ecosystems and have more access to the benefits of their conservation.

An event that shows practical and innovative solutions to support economic growth and also preserve the natural environment and enhance social inclusion could be a focus for the next 2016 global conference in Mexico.


1From the 12 COP meetings on biodiversity that have been held until today, the Asian Continent has been the one with major number of host countries (representing 42% of the total), followed by the American and the European Continents (25%, respectively); in Africa: Kenya (2000); America: Argentina (1996), Bahamas (1994), Brazil (2006); Asia: India (2012), Indonesia (1995), Japan (2010), Malaysia (2004), Republic of Korea (2014); Europe: Germany (2008), Nederland (2002), Slovakia (1998).

2The United Nations Environment Program has identified 17 megadiverse countries, located in, or partially in, tropical or subtropical regions, such as in the Southeast Asia or Latin America, all of them harbored more than 70% of the Earth’s biological diversity, and their territories represent only 10% of the planet’s surface. It is important to point out that from the total of host countries for biodiversity conferences only 5 (Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia) are recognized as megadiverse countries.

Climate Change: When Dreams Change

by Mónica Ribadeneira Sarmiento (ELP 2014), Ecuador

Martin Luther King, Jr's delivery of the speech on August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Source:

Martin Luther King, Jr’s delivery of the speech on August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Almost everybody has heard the phrase “I have a dream”; most of us know what it is about. What’s more, some of us consider that the great speech given by Martin Luther King Jr is, indeed, a masterpiece. This masterpiece was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial (Washington D.C.) as the final step of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I strongly recommend that everyone read or hear it when you need to be encouraged to continue fighting for causes and principles that you consider as core values.

For those who study or work on political science or human rights, it could be difficult to find something more moving and inspiring than this speech.

For years “I have a dream” has moved us and encouraged us to fight against unfairness and injustice. Furthermore, it is relevant internationally and is timeless.

While attending the COP 20 in Lima, I could not help myself thinking about Martin Luther King´s speech when I saw a placard with the following picture. As it can be easily appreciated, this was another dream for another cause.



… I dreamed a dream that frightened me a lot: I saw a strong wind, very very strong, it came and destroyed all the forest.  The trees flew on the wind and just left behind sand and dust, and that is what became the Amazonian forest … Cacique Raoni,  chief of the Kayapo people Photo Credit: Aldabe E, Dec 2014

I dreamed a dream that frightened me a lot: I saw a strong wind, very very strong, it came and destroyed all the forest. The trees flew on the wind and just left behind sand and dust… that is what became of the Amazonian forest …
Cacique Raoni, chief of the Kayapo people
Photo Credit: Aldabe E, Dec 2014


Indeed, from one dream to another, there are a number of differences.

First, climate change is not moving political forces and societies as the civil rights movement did. Second, public demonstrations are not causing significant effects on policy-makers and public establishments as Martin Luther King´s speech did. Third, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place after much time had passed and invaluable resources were wasted. In case of climate change, we are running out of time as well. Fourth, improvements, compromises and decisions during the civil rights movement came from the hands of leaders, which took a long time to turn into reality. Now, we lack a similar kind of leadership and again, we may not have the luxury of time.

As a simple human being, as a citizen of the world, far away from the decision-making level, I am a small voice. Sure, I do not have the solution on my hands, neither the starting point to resolve the mammoth scourge of global warming. Indeed, most of the time I have no single hope in the international process or in the efforts of the national delegations (official and unofficial ones). But I do have hope in leadership, and strongly believe that we need it desperately to drive us to achieve worldwide results in addressing global warming and its related challenges. Moreover, I do believe that we need to commit ourselves to having and achieving the dream. Would it be a dream to draft a global agreement and commit all forces? It may be; but getting started on the road between COP Lima to COP Paris, it is the only one I have. I have a dream; share it with me, share it with someone else!

Lima Call for Climate Action: Paving the Way to Revisit Central Africa’s Adaptation Agenda

by Denis J. Sonwa (ELP 2010), Cameroon

Cifor 2 caption - Angelique Ipanga a teacher and also a farmer in a manioc field tending the crop. Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo credit: CIFOR (

Angelique Ipanga, a teacher and also a farmer in a manioc field tending the crop. Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo credit: CIFOR

One of the main outputs of the UNFCCC COP 20 in Lima is the significant progress on recognizing the importance of adaptation when responding to climate change. The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process had gained more interest and will be given more visibility in the UNFCCC website. How NAP can be supported by the GFC (Green Climate Fund) will be a subject of further discussions before Paris 2015. The Global Landscape Forum (GLF) organized by CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) and partners as a side event during this COP clearly states that adaptation and mitigation approaches can be combined and reinforced through landscape approaches. It is now time for countries and regions to turn the outputs of Lima into realities, both nationally and regionally.

The Africa Union Position had always been that adaptation is a priority in all actions related to addressing climate change in Africa. However, this position had been reasoned differently in the Central African region. Here, mitigation through REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries) had been seen as the priority while adaptation did not receive enough attention. Through the CoFCCA (Congo Basin Forest and Climate Change Adaptation) and COBAM (Climate Change and Forests in the Congo Basin: Synergies between Adaptation and Mitigation) projects, CIFOR and its partners started raising awareness in 2008, on the need to also work on adaptation and on the synergy between adaptation and mitigation. As a response, adaptation was given an entire chapter in the 2013 Congo Basin State of Forest report. Also, COMIFAC (Central African Forests Commission) included adaptation in its new 10 year (2015-2025) convergence plan. The plan still needs to be turned into concrete reality at the regional, national and local levels.

Cifor 1 caption - Jean Mombombi Nyangue, a fisherman on the Congo River, Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo credit: CIFOR (

Jean Mombombi Nyangue, a fisherman on the Congo River. Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo credit: CIFOR

Some key questions may help in turning the plan into realities: Can countries of the region provide the same interest for NAP as they did for REDD-RPP (REDD Readiness Preparation Proposal)? Can the vulnerability of poor communities to climate change be given the same importance as the vulnerability of carbon stock to deforestation/degradation? Can the trade-off and synergetic opportunities between adaptation and mitigation be explored in the context of the 12 landscapes initially delineated for biodiversity conservation in the Congo Basin? Can a balance be found between humid forest and other ecosystems of the Central African countries? Can a balance be found between forest and other sectors?

CIFOR and partners initiated, just before the Lima climate conference, a reflection on “Opportunities and Challenges for Emerging Themes on Climate Change in Central Africa” during a CBFP (Congo Basin Forest Partnership) meeting. This was an occasion to discuss issues such as adaptation, synergy between adaptation & mitigation, agriculture and mangrove conservation. While such an event helps in elevating the place of adaptation in the ongoing climate dialogs, the Lima call can provide pathways to move further. Stakeholders interested in the development and welfare of the region cannot ignore this call to give adaptation the same attention as mitigation when responding to climate change. The agenda of adaptation needs to be revisited in Central Africa!!!

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