Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, May 24th, 2020

Afghanistan’s Environmental Challenges

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Afghanistan’s Environmental Challenges

In just one generation, the Afghan people have seen many of their basic resources, such as water for irrigation, trees for food and fuel, lost. There are other urgent environmental problems. In the cities, burning of wastes, toxic air polluting, contamination of the water supplies from uncontrolled dumping of waste products (which creates the high risk of viral and bacterial diseases) are the most glaring problems.

In Afghanistan, continued drought and protracted war added to the environmental problems. There is no modern garbage disposal center to digest the garbage produced by some 5 million people in Kabul or recycle factories in Kabul and other big cities. There is no chemical factory or plant in Afghan cities that produce carbon dioxide or other gases. However, burning tires in brick kilns, public baths, battered roads, congested streets, smoke emitting from vehicles and poor forestation campaign have been contributing to the polluting environment.

Ancient writings and archaeological evidence show that once rich areas of forest and grassland have been reduced to stretches of barren rock and sand. Like almost everything in Afghanistan, the environment too has been the victim of three decades of war. As the war is still lingering, no significant attention is being paid to resolve Afghanistan's environmental problems.

The government of Afghanistan began to recognize environmental problems in the 1970's with the help of the United Nations and other international agencies. The pressures of the war, however, have diverted attention from these issues and further aggravated the country's environmental state.

Forests and wetlands have been depleted by centuries of grazing and farming, practices which have only increased with modern population growth. In Afghanistan, environmental conservation and economic concerns are not at odds; with 80% of the population dependent on herding or farming, the welfare of the environment is critical to the economic welfare of the people. In 2007, the World Health Organization released a report ranking Afghanistan lowest among non-African nations in deaths from environmental hazards.

In the post Taliban Afghanistan some measures have been taken by the government for addressing the concerns related to environment. But these measures have not been sufficient and have remained confined to documentation, seminars and workshops while the environment is in need of practical measures.

In the year 2005, Afghanistan National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA) was established and in order to specify the duties, responsibilities and authorities of this organization, environmental law, the first in Afghanistan history, was drafted. Without much delay the law was endorsed by President Hamid Karzai. However, the law could not come into effect even in the following year as the Parliament took much time bringing several amendments in it. The final and approved version of the law was released in the beginning of 2007.

The law defines the agency's function as well as its powers. NEPA serves as Afghanistan's environmental policy-making and regulatory institution. Its role is to regulate, coordinate, monitor and enforce environmental laws. The agency is expected to play a major role in environmental protection, as well as to be the central point in dealing with the management of Afghanistan's environment so that it benefits all the citizens of Afghanistan.

In the major of cities of Afghanistan, the environment has been badly harmed. Apart from the major environmental issues today for Afghanistan like soil degradation, air and water pollution, alarming rate of deforestation, overgrazing and desertification, environmental problems in urban areas are becoming increasingly complicated due to lack of attention. Kabul the capital city of Afghanistan, in itself, has turned into an open garbage area. The only difference between a deserted area where waste from cities is transferred and Kabul is that in the later people live and in the former life of human is considered to be at great stake of deadly diseases.

Kabul has fallen in the list of most polluted cities of the world. The city is facing numerous problems in regards of pollution: a virtually non-existent sewage and sanitation system, burgeoning slums, crumbling infrastructure and rapid population growth.

This year, on international environment day – June 5th, a week was dedicated to creation of public awareness on environmental protection. The week started from 5th June and ended on the 11th. Unfortunately, the campaigning of concerned organizations about this week is so weak that hardly five percent of the population in Afghanistan seems to know about it. Public outreach programs aimed at opening the minds of common people in regards of protecting the environment should be initiated and conveyed to the public through various mediums such as the print and electronic media. The people expects the government to take practical steps regarding protection of environment and not conceal its ineffectiveness by conducting seminars, workshops etc only.

Keeping in view the vitality of better environment for human lives, we need to take the environmental issues as serious as political, social and other issues. This is the only way that is deemed to assist in safeguarding the natural system against destruction. For this, every nation is responsible and issues of environment are common for all.

The Afghan government has to act fast and execute a series of projects such as the rehabilitation of forests and promotion of greenery, ban the import and use of substandard fuel, improve waste management and at the same time build and strengthen our own institutional capacity. It is about time the government and the people took steps in order to clean and protect the environment to enable themselves and their coming generations breath in a cleaner air and remain safe from various kinds of killing diseases. Not only the concerned government organizations have to perform their obligations sincerely but also the people have to be cautious regarding their surroundings and clean their environment on self support basis.

Muhammad Ahsan is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlookafghanistan@gmail.com

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