From the Spent and Unconsidered Earth – a Forest!

Local elder, Shaji Lemar, has personally has led the reforestation of the Gamberi Desert over the past two years. “Besides being my job, it is my personal interest to see this desert turn green again," he said. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Farhad Zalmai / 2016.

15 August 2016, Jalalabad – The Gamberi Desert, on the outskirts of Jalalabad, is home to 1,000 families. It’s a land of extremes: harsh, dry, sandy, and hot, making life a struggle for the people who live there.

Many years ago, it was different. The Gamberi Desert was a forest of indigenous bushes that held the soil together and allowed life to grow. But decades of conflict and poverty forced communities to cut down the bushes and use the wood cooking and heating. Deforestation led to desertification, sand storms and the erosion of agricultural fields.  


  • Life was hard in the Gamberi desert area of Jalalabad after years of cutting down trees left the area barren
  • The burning sun made life miserable and killed crops
  • UNDP has reforested the area with 60,000 tamarisk trees
  • Now the local community knows the value of trees and is committed to looking after them

"It was terrible. You would have burnt here in summer” said local, Mohammad Abbas. “Our fields were destroyed by sand storms”

To change this, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme has planted some 60,000 tamarisk trees – a fast growing, drought-resistant species that does well in these conditions. At the same time, educational programmes have encouraged local people to look after the trees.

 “We didn’t know the importance of the forest before,” said Nadir, a community member. “Now we understand and will protect it.”

The project has also provided jobs for 850 local people and created a habitat for birds and other wildlife. Local people say they have seen foxes and birds living in the forest, which is a sign of real environmental repair.

Environmental experts recommend that 15 percent of a country like Afghanistan should be forested in order to prevent topsoil erosion and sustain good air quality. But the UN estimates that over the past 30 years, Afghanistan’s forest cover has halved to around just 2 percent of the total land area. If the current trend is not reversed, all forests in Afghanistan will disappear in the next 30 years.

UNDP and the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme has awarded 46 grants in Afghanistan for projects on biodiversity, climate change mitigation, the prevention of land degradation and sustainable forest management. Of these, 22 completed projects have already improved the environment for nearly 55,000 households around the country.

Other UNDP environment projects are helping people adapt and find jobs in the face of climate change, bringing clean power to rural areas, preparing for natural disasters, establishing and protecting national parks, and conserving biodiversity for future generations.


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