Ecosystem, Wildlife Conservation Funded in Afghanistan

MANILA, Philippines, June 10, 2005 (ENS) - To conserve biodiversity in Afghanistan's protected areas and also address the basic needs of communities in the buffer zones, the Asian Development Bank announced today that a technical assistance grant package worth US$1.785 million has been approved for the war-torn country.

The technical assistance package is structured in two interlinked components - one covering protected areas and the other for the buffer zones around them.

The protected area component, financed with $975,000 from the Global Environment Facility, will help conserve globally significant biodiversity in selected key protected areas.

Funding for the protected area component will be used to develop management plans and conduct biodiversity assessments; and promote capacity building in protected area management; as well as providing basic park infrastructure and field equipment for monitoring and surveying.

In addition, these funds will be used to develop ecotourism by emphasizing links between conservation and benefit for local stakeholders, and to support key policy and institutional reforms, the bank said today.

The buffer zone component, financed with $810,000 from the Poverty Reduction Cooperation Fund from the government of the United Kingdom, will link development interventions to conservation goals through conservation stewardship agreements.

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Man who lives near Afghanistan's first national park at Bande Amir in the Hindu Kush Mountains (Photo courtesy UNEP Post-Conflict Assessment Unit)
These funds will be used to conduct participatory assessments of target communities to identify their needs and priorities for action and a strategy to reduce poverty while protecting natural resources.

It will also provide skills training and promote the empowerment of women by providing alternative livelihoods.

The components will also pilot-test ways to improve food security and access to health and education, and will provide microfinance services.

"Local communities located within nature reserves and their buffer zones are highly dependent on natural resources to sustain and enhance livelihoods," says Ali Azimi, a senior environment specialist with the Asian Development Bank.

"Empowering the local communities in the management of protected areas will be the strategic approach to promote socioeconomic stability among the rural poor while conserving natural resources within the protected areas," Azimi said.

More than two decades of war have had a severe impact on the biodiversity of Afghanistan. Endangered species of plants and animals found in all representative ecosystems, ranging from the arid deserts of the southwest to the alpine valleys of the Hindu Kush, are under severe threat.

Afghanistan's first national park at Bande Amir and five other wildlife reserves and sanctuaries established in the 1970s, after years of efforts, were abandoned along with other protected areas.

Bande Amir

Afghanistan's Bande Amir National Park (Photo courtesy UNEP Post-Conflict Assessment Unit)
Bande Amir, a chain of six natural lakes connected by natural calcium carbonate dams, lies 75 kilometers west of Bamiyan in the central Hindu Kush Mountains. The natural site of Bande Amir, sacred for its association with Hazrat Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad, is Afghanistan's most outstanding scenic attraction.

Bande Amir was officially declared a national park in 1973, although it did not meet the international standards defined by IUCN-World Conservation Union.

The United Nations Development Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization were requested in 1972 to provide assistance in the conservation and management of wildlife and natural environments, including the preparation of a system for protected areas.

The Afghan Department of Forests and Range was given the responsibility of implementing these management plans. For Bande Amir this included addressing such problems as the unlimited grazing and uprooting of shrubs that were causing range degradation and soil erosion as well as the harvesting of reeds that was destroying waterfowl resting habitats, according to a case study of Bande Amir conducted by the UN Institute for Training and Research.

But due to continuous conflicts,natural sites, such as Bande Amir, received no attention for 30 years, and institutional development for the management of protected areas has remained at a standstill during the last two decades.

Experienced staff to maintain the system of protected areas do not exist, and during the past 20 years no financial resources have been allocated to manage these areas.

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Horms of a urial sheep on a wall at Bande Amir (Photo courtesy UNEP Post-Conflict Assessment Unit)
As Afghanistan's population is dependent on natural resources for economic and social welfare, the bank says Afghanistan's poor people have experienced deeper levels of poverty as these resources have been degraded.

Azimi says that successful poverty reduction and protected area management models that come out of this technical assistance package will be considered for broader application nationwide.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food is the executing agency for the technical assistance package, which is due for completion in November 2006.

The Afghan government is contributing the equivalent of $122,000 toward the package's total value of $1.9 million.

The protected areas funding is in addition to a US$50 rural electricity loan and grant assistance arrangement package approved for Afghanistan in April by the bank. The electricity supply project is intended to help improve the living conditions of some 1.2 million poor people in rural Afghanistan.

For more information on Afghanistan's environment see the ENS report: Afghanistan's Environment Ravaged by War, Drought