Kabul, 6 March 2019 – Afghanistan’s population is facing a growing array of environmental problems including unrelenting deforestation and land degradation, uncontrolled urbanization and solid waste disposal, worsening air and water pollution, depletion of groundwater, illegal wildlife hunting and timber trade, expanding mining footprint including informal artisanal quarrying, limited renewable energy alternatives, and more frequent and severe floods, droughts and landslides. Insecurity in large parts of the country, poor infrastructure, and the accelerating impacts of climate change are seriously limiting efforts to get a better grip of the deteriorating situation and its effects on human wellbeing.
With a view to increasing the awareness and understanding of environmental threats and catalysing appropriate remedial solutions, the National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA) and UN Environment organized a three-day training and planning workshop in Kabul from 4-6 March 2019 to help build the foundations for an integrated State of the Environment Reporting system in Afghanistan. Over 60 experts from the central government, provincial and municipal authorities, academia, civil society and non-governmental organizations, media, and UN agencies participated in the event which sought to transfer the tools, best practices and lessons learned by UN Environment through its Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process to Afghanistan.
While two State of the Environment Reports on Afghanistan have already been published, this will be the first time that it will be prepared through the collaboration of various national partners coordinated by the National Environmental Protection Agency, with a longer-term view to ensure the sustainability of the process and not as a single standalone report. ‘Previous reports were either prepared by international consultants or a handful of individuals, which under the circumstances was probably the best that could be done, but to be honest they have not had the desired impact’, said Mr. Ezatullah Sediqi, Deputy Director General of NEPA.
‘As a report user, the previous state of the environment reports essentially identified the key issues but did not quantify the extent of the problem. Furthermore, there is not really much difference between Afghanistan’s state of the environment 2008 and 2012 editions’, observed Assistant Professor Mujtaba Bashari of Kabul University. ‘It’s very difficult to access Afghanistan’s state of environment reports and the underlying data, which are not available on the internet’, noted Ms. Maryam Abbasi, a recent student from Kabul University.
‘It’s therefore important that we take a learning by doing approach to develop our capacity in state of the environment reporting, and that it becomes an institutionalized process within government. This is critical to keeping our national environment under continuous review, as state of the environment reporting is a recurrent exercise which we are legally required to carry out within established time intervals to inform Afghan society and decision-makers on the overall health of our national environment and the future towards which we are heading’, added Mr. Sediqi.
Experts from the Committee on Environmental Protection from neighboring Tajikistan which recently published its state of the environment report in 2018 also participated and shared their experiences and insights in integrated environmental assessment and the development of core environmental indicators. In addition, the event was also a good opportunity to promote exchange of environmental expertise and to reinforce environmental cooperation, including on sharing environmental data between the two countries.
One of the main gaps underscored in the workshop discussions is the need to improve coordination and data exchange between and within government agencies, and between national and provincial authorities. ‘One way of bridging these communication gaps is by creating a structured and participatory state of the environment reporting process that is embedded in the governmental set-up. With the genuine commitment I have seen from NEPA’s leadership evidenced by the high workshop turnout including of senior officials, I’m confident that this is entirely feasible’, said Dr. Laszlo Pinter from the Central European University and the International Institute of Sustainable Development who co-facilitated the training event.
A critical part of the workshop discussions focused on planning the preparation of Afghanistan’s next State of the Environment report in an efficient and cost-effective manner. ‘A critical first step is to map and engage the key stakeholders, including its prospective users, who can substantially contribute to the state of the environment report, its outreach and impact, and to design a sustainable organizational set-up for report production’, underscored Dr. Nickolai Denisov, Senior Associate with Zoï Environment Network who co-led the workshop. NEPA in collaboration with UNEP will be working to develop a road map to produce Afghanistan’s State of the Environment report taking into consideration the consultation process, institutional technical capacity, data management planning, report dissemination channels and formats, timeline and funding. And UNEP will remain available to provide technical advisory support to accompany Afghanistan’s state of the environment report, if so requested.
This training workshop, including the development of the action plan for Afghanistan’s State of the Environment report, is generously supported by the European Commission under the ‘Opportunities for Mountain Area Integrated Development’ project which started in late 2018.
NOTES TO EDITORS
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