New environmental councils spur development in provincial communities

Environmental Councils
UNDP Afghanistan / Sayeed Farhad Zalmai: Nine-year old Shabana and her brother draw water for their family from Chai-i-Kar's only water source, the Joe-e-Projey canal.

Char-i-Kar, Parwar Province: Standing at the edge of Joe-e-Projey canal in the northern town of Char-i-Kar, Mohammad Tahir, a car mechanic, rues the fate of children who drink water from the local canal.

“This canal has snuffed out many, many young lives. It is a bed of dirt and disease,” he says sadly, with moist eyes.

Key Results

  • 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have Provincial Environment Advisory Councils, thanks to an environmental management initiative supported by UNDP
  • More than 8,000 trees have been planted, and saplings are being looked after by volunteers.
  • Environmental councils are advising community projects such as canal clean-ups, and promoting the use of cleaner fuels.

The 70-year-old patriarch of a large family of eight children and a gaggle of grandchildren is echoing what local residents have known for years. The canal water is dangerous, sometimes deadly.

For an estimated 10,000 families in Char-i-Kar, the Joe-e-Projey canal on the Panjshir River in Parwan province is the only source of drinking water. Unsustainable economic growth and the lack of sewage systems have caused the once-pristine canal to drain and become clogged by garbage. Change is on the way, however, with a new environmental agency planning to clean up the canal and to combat a host of other environmental problems in Parwan.

But the newly formed Provincial Environment Advisory Council in Parwan, some 60 kilometres north of Kabul, is aiming to make a difference. The Council is in discussions with local government officials to clean up the canal.

Today, 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have these Provincial Environment Advisory Councils, thanks to a nationwide environmental management initiative supported by UNDP in partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN Environment Programme, and with financial backing from the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund. The Councils are legally mandated by the central Government and meet twice a year. The 30-member Councils include mayors, heads of local government departments, community elders, the religious Ulema—made up of senior clerics and religious scholars—and representatives from women and youth civil society organizations.

The Councils are specifically charged with both advisory and advocacy roles, helping to mold provincial-level environmental policy and procedures. Development and infrastructure projects across Afghanistan are increasingly being made to go through basic environmental and public assessments by the government, a task the Councils are taking on.

The active involvement of the new provincial councils in the development process in Parwan has led to growing awareness among state and community officials of the environmental threats facing the province.

Abdul Wasih Azizi, the provincial head of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development claims environmental issues are strongly reflected in each of the 826 Community Development Council Plans at the village level. His ministry has directed all the Councils and District Development Assemblies to enforce strict environmental standards.

The environmental actions go well beyond cleaning up the canal. The community itself is participating in a large-scale effort to green the region. Three years ago, Haji Mohammad Khalid, head of neighbouring Golgondy district’s Association of Skilled Laborers and a member of Parwan’s Environment Advisory Council, led a drive that helped plant more than 8,000 pine trees.

“The saplings were planted three years ago and are still being looked after by the volunteers, and as a result nearly all the saplings have survived,” he says.

Parwan’s Provincial Environment Advisory Council has convinced local business to stop burning rubber tires and plastic, a major cause of respiratory illnesses. As a result, most businesses have started to use liquefied natural gas as fuel.

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