Afghanistan’s environment is under serious threat from climate change and competition over resources.
Arable land is limited. Nearly half the country is being used for herding, and more than one-third is made up of mountains. This leaves just 12% available for farming in a country where 70% of people live on the land.
Between 1978 and 2002 alone, coniferous forest cover in the east, which is where most of the trees are, dropped by 50 percent. As of today, only 3% of Afghanistan enjoys forest cover.
Climate change has brought clearly observable changes in rainfall and temperature, resulting in prolonged and more frequent droughts and floods.
Biodiversity appears to be declining at an accelerating rate. Overgrazing and shrub collection for fuel is eradicating plant biomass and disrupting the ecosystem.
The 2015 UN World Water Development Report ranks Afghanistan as one of the countries with the lowest ability to conserve water resources, due to lack of green cover, reservoirs and capacity in environmental management.
In response to these challenges, a National Environmental Law was passed in 2007 that aims to improve quality of life through conservation, protection and improvement of the country’s environment. There are also strategies and action plans for climate change and biodiversity.
Launched in 1992, the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) funds environmental projects implemented by civil society. In Afghanistan, funding has been made available to a wide range of organizations, including those that work on issues related to women, local communities and indigenous groups. These funds have enabled projects covering biodiversity, climate change, land degradation, sustainable forest management, international waters and the elimination of harmful chemicals.
Specific examples of successful GEF-SGP projects include environmental awareness campaigns, wind turbines that provide clean energy and water to communities that have never had them before, the creation of sustainable systems for waste management in urban areas, the protection national parks and support for Afghanistan’s first female rangers.
All GEF-SGP projects are managed by UNDP, but communities have direct ownership. Local people play a key role in implementation and are responsible for ensuring the sustainability of results. Wherever possible, we use local materials and technologies that can be maintained without foreign expertise, and project design is informed by considerations of gender, vulnerability and equality.
The GEF-SGP programme complements Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy, which highlights the environment as a cross-cutting issue. Work is carried out in a decentralized manner through a National Coordinator and a National Steering Committee made up of NGOs, academic and scientific institutions, civil society organizations, UNDP experts and government officials.
GEF-SGP projects projects do not just protect the environment, they also provide environmentally sustainable jobs and enhance people›s wellbeing, for example through reducing the use of toxic fuels for cooking at home and creating cleaner public spaces.
What we have accomplished so far?
- 46 grants have been awarded in Kabul, Nangarhar, Badakhshan, Bamyan, Balkh, Kunar, Faryab and Panjshir, totalling US$ 2.2 million and leveraging co-funds of around US$ 2.5 million in cash and in kind.
- The Rural Green Environment Organization, a GEF-SGP grantee, won the Equator Prize 2015 for a project to reforest degraded watershed areas in Badakhshan. This is the first time an Afghan NGO has been awarded the prize.
- A network of GEF-SGP grantees has been established and training workshops have built capacity for more than 300 CSOs working on environmental issues.
- Partnerships have been created with over 50 UN, NGO and government partners for implementation of SGP projects in Afghanistan.
- 3 SGP grantees have been linked with grantees in neighbouring SGP countries to share best practices.
- Wind turbines now provide light and clean water for 120 households in rural Kabul.
- Over 400 shopkeepers, farmers, herders, media, CSO members and municipality staff have been trained on waste management and composting techniques in Nangahar. The same project saw environmental messages broadcasted on radio and TV, and awareness campaigns carried out with CSOs, government agencies and youth.
- In Kabul, 38 disabled women and youth have been trained and are now permanenetly employed making cotton bags. This project also saw the issue of plastic waste taken up in parliament for the first time.
- 105 solar heaters have been provided to families in Bamyan, allowing them to decrease their use of fossil fuels by 25-30%.