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UNEP project to integrate environment into Afghanistan’s development strategy

Kabul/Nairobi, 28 October 2003 - At the request of the Transitional Islamic Government of Afghanistan, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) together with the European Commission and the Ministry of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment (MIWRE) today announced a €4.27 million programme to promote good environmental governance and to support the rehabilitation of the country's environment.

The two phased project, largely funded with €3.75 million from the European Commission, will address the key environmental intervention priorities inscribed in the 1382 National Development Budget of the Government of Afghanistan. These interventions aim to address many of the institutional recommendations contained in UNEP's January 2003 "Afghanistan Post-conflict Environmental Assessment" report.

With an initial funding of €973.000, phase one of the project was launched in Kabul today as a part of the European Commission's Public Administration Programme. The first phase will organize and build the capacity of a specialized environmental Afghan public administration.

The second phase of the programme, beginning in 2004, supported with another €3,3 million, will further strengthen the capacity of the Ministry's Department of Environment. This phase will also address other pressing environmental needs such as the development of a protected areas network and related management plans, and the development of environmental education at the university, secondary, primary, and community level.

The combined 30 month programme will strengthen the government's on-going commitment to incorporate environmental and sustainable development priorities into Afghanistan's National Development Framework.

The UNEP Post Conflict Environmental Assessment found that much of the country's environment has been degraded to an alarming extent, with potentially serious implications for human health. The report highlighted the pressures that conflict, poverty and population growth have placed on freshwater, soils, forests, wildlife and other natural resources. Poor environmental management of wastes has further contributed to health risks.

"Afghanistan's natural environment is a critical asset for the future development of the country," said Minister of Environment Dr. Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani. "By strengthening the government's ability to manage these environmental and natural resources, this project will make an invaluable contribution to Afghanistan's future."

A healthy natural environment and the adoption of sustainable development as a guiding principle are vital to any long-term strategy for economic and social development," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Töpfer.

"UNEP is committed to supporting efforts by the Afghan authorities to rehabilitate the country's environment - which has been devastated by over 30 years of conflict - and to promote the sustainable management of its natural resources," he said.

"During the last decade, the Commission struggled to support efforts to protect the environment under near impossible conditions and with no functioning government partner. So today it is clear that we have reason to be optimistic as we can finally address the need to protect Afghanistan's environment. And we are proud to be able to support our government partners and welcome the continuing efforts of the UN", noted The European Commission's Head of Operations in Kabul, Jean-Francois Cautain.

The "Capacity and Institution Building for Environmental Management in Afghanistan" project will support a team of six Afghan and international experts, together with a pool of short-term experts. Located within the Department of Environment, they will train up to 45 Ministry staff and conduct training workshops for environmental stakeholders and inter-ministerial task forces.

The project will provide training and technical support in order to:

  1. Facilitate consultation, coordination, cooperation and the mainstreaming of environmental issues and projects within the National Development Framework.

  2. Improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the Department of Environment in accordance with the national restructuring process.

  3. Contribute to institutionalizing environmental impact assessment through the development of Environmental Impact Assessment policies, procedures and legislation.

  4. Contribute to developing national environmental policy and a national environmental action plan and mechanisms for inter-ministerial coordination.

  5. Contribute to institutionalizing environmental laws and regulations by developing an environmental legal and regulatory framework.

  6. Facilitate state-of-the-environment reporting by developing environmental quality monitoring, information management, analyses and reporting.

  7. Increase public awareness of environmental issues by developing awareness campaigns, public reporting, environmental education and participation in decision making.

  8. Contribute to re-establishing linkages between national, provincial and local levels of government by developing pilot projects on provincial and local-level environmental management.

  9. Assist in implementing multilateral and regional environmental agreements by developing project proposals and strengthening legal harmonization and reporting.

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Afghanistan's wetlands and birdlife bear brunt of war and drought

Environment minister appeals for international assistance

Nairobi, February 6, 2003 - The internationally significant Sistan wetlands - shared between Afghanistan and Iran - are almost completely dry, according to a new report presented to environmental leaders in Nairobi today.

Mr Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, Afghanistan's Minister of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment, told the 100 environment ministers attending UNEP's Governing Council meeting that satellite imagery has revealed 99 percent of the wetlands have dried up since 1998.

The findings come from UNEP's Afghanistan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment report, launched in Kabul last week.

Additional information released today shows the Helmand River, the main tributary of the wetlands which drains 31 percent of Afghanistan's land area, has run as much as 98 percent below its annual average in recent years.

Four years of drought has compounded problems caused by uncoordinated management of the river basin's dams and irrigation schemes during two decades of conflict.

Without a stable source of water much of the natural vegetation of the Sistan basin has died or been collected for fuel. This has contributed to soil erosion and significant movement of sand onto roads and into settlements and irrigated areas.

The Iranian side of the wetland was designated a Ramsar site - an international treaty designed to protect important wetlands - in 1975. At that time half a million waterfowl comprising 150 species were counted on Hamoun-e-Puzak - two-thirds of which is in Afghanistan - including eight globally threatened migratory birds such as the Dalmatian pelican and marbled teal.

In central Afghanistan, the UNEP assessment team found the national waterfowl and flamingo sanctuaries at Dasht-e-Nawar and Ab-e-Estada were also completely dry.

Flamingos have not bred successfully inside Afghanistan for four years, and the last Siberian crane was seen in 1986.

While renewed rainfall could restore river flows and wetland areas, their long-term sustainability will require proper and coordinated management of water extraction from dams, rivers and wells, and prevention of contamination from waste dumps, sewers and chemicals, the report shows.

It will also need transboundary cooperation, a source of tension in the past, with Iran having accused the Taliban regime in 2001 of blocking flows of the Helmand River, the cause of which was later found to be drought.

"At the regional level, we have to increasingly work with our direct neighbours on water, forest and desertification issues," Mr Nuristani said. "Afghanistan must find its place among the international environment community and start benefiting from the international conventions."

On the positive side, the assessment team found that Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan's first national park is in good hydrological condition and supports populations of urial and ibex. The area contains six lakes of crystal-clear water, separated by white travertine dams and surrounded by spectacular red cliffs - the best example of this landscape type in the world.

It offers significant potential for nature tourism and meets the criteria for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but during 2001 was one of the front lines of fighting between Taliban and resistance forces and some areas remain heavily mined.

Mr Nuristani said snowfalls in the past week had replenished water levels at the Kole Hashmat Khan wetland on the outskirts of Kabul, which had been dry for much of the past five years.

The wetland was declared a waterfowl reserve by King Zahir Shah in the 1930s and in the 1960s supported tens of thousands of ducks, as well as wintering and migratory birds.

But protection was never formalised, game wardens have been ineffective, canals have been dug to divert water, the land encroached upon for housing, and even seized by military commanders for the resettlement of homeless people.

It is a situation repeated throughout the country. The report concludes that collapse of local and national forms of governance during Afghanistan's two decades of conflict has been one of the main contributors to environmental decline.

It has also destroyed infrastructure, hindered agricultural activity and driven people into cities already lacking the most basic public amenities.

The drought have compounded a situation of lowered water tables, dried up wetlands, denuded forests, eroded land and depleted wildlife populations. And with1.5 million returning refugees expected this year, pressure on natural resources and environmental services will increase further.

Mr Nuristani said, "the report makes it clear how conflict causes environmental destruction. Similarly, continued environmental depletion and scarcity of natural resources will cause further conflict. Effective environmental management is the key to braking this vicious cycle."

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said "with the restoration of national governance in Afghanistan we have an historic opportunity to create environmental laws and policies and build the capacity for sustainable management of natural resources. But long-term improvements cannot be expected without sustained technical and financial assistance from the international community.".

The UNEP assessment was carried out last year by 20 international scientists and Afghan experts, who examined 38 urban sites in four cities and 35 rural locations.

The report contains more than 150 recommendations, including environmental legislation and enforcement, environmental impact assessment procedures, and capacity building for public participation and education.

Mr Nuristani said the Afghanistan Transitional Authority aimed to complete its first national budget by the end of next month. "I hope environmental considerations can be fully integrated into the reconstruction programme through the support of UNEP, the Asian Development Bank and the international donor community."

The information on Afghanistan's wetlands comes 44 days before the UNEP-led World Water Day on March 22, which will focus attention on the many responses to water management issues being made around the globe.

END

A summary of key findings from the report in relation to urban issues, forest and wildlife loss can be found in UNEP Press Release 2003/05 at http://www.unep.org/Documents/Default.asp?DocumentID=277&ArticleID=3201

Or contact Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, phone +254 2 623292, mobile +254 (0) 733 682656, email eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, phone + 254 2 623084, mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, email: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Documents for UNEP's 22nd Governing Council meeting, to be held from February 3-7, are available from www.unep.org/GoverningBodies/GC22/documents.asp

UNEP News Release

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