UNEP in Afghanistan: Laying the foundations for sustainable development

16 May 2009

UNEP in Afghanistan: Laying the foundations for sustainable development

16 May 2009 - As UNAMA's latest Afghan Update Magazine on the environment is published, the work of the United Nations Environment Programme in Afghanistan is highlighted.


The work of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Afghanistan started in 2002 with the undertaking of a detailed post-conflict environmental assessment of the country.


The report, which painted a picture of a country on the brink of irreversible environmental destruction, warned of a future without the water, forests, pastures, land and clean air needed by Afghans in order to survive and ultimately to prosper. The report contained 163 recommendations to help ensure against such a bleak prophesy becoming reality.

It was on the basis of this report that the Government of Afghanistan requested UNEP to remain in-country and assist in the implementation of the assessment’s most pressing and immediate recommendations. The decision to establish a longer-term country presence in Afghanistan is an unusual one for UNEP, as the organization normally only operates at global and regional levels. The initial focus of UNEP’s activities in Afghanistan (which have been funded primarily by the European Commission, the Government of Finland and the Global Environment Facility) was on developing environmental institutions and building technical capacity, particularly in regard to the five foundational pillars of UNEP’s work in Afghanistan: environmental institutions and coordination; environmental law and policy; environmental impact assessment; environmental information and education; and community-based natural resources management.

UNEP has been instrumental in the design, establishment and initial functioning of the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), which came into being in 2005. In addition to general and specialized technical training to its staff, UNEP has worked with NEPA to develop the management tools needed by the institution in order to effectively function and implement its mandate. These tools include policies, laws, regulations, guidelines, standards and work plans. UNEP is now assisting NEPA to breathe life into the regulatory and institutional framework by training the inspectorate and others on implementation and enforcement, developing a training programme for judges and similar such activities.

Many ministries and agencies in Afghanistan have important environment mandates. Most significant of these is the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), which is the institutional home for Afghanistan’s rangelands, forests, wetlands and biodiversity. As natural resources form the backbone of most of the rural population, without which most cannot survive, UNEP has invested significant resources into the improvement of natural resource management.

This has included the introduction of a community-based approach to natural resource management, in accordance with the successes of international and regional approaches, including the development of appropriate policies and laws. To pilot and test these approaches at the field-level, UNEP, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, implements field-based projects in the provinces of Badakhshan, Herat and Bamyan, the lessons learnt from which feed back into the policy and regulatory work at the central level. UNEP is also implementing protected areas projects, but with a focus on livelihood generation and poverty reduction, rather than biodiversity conservation only.


UNEP’s activities in Afghanistan have expanded into other important areas, including global issues such as climate change, which constitutes a significant threat to the future of rural livelihoods. UNEP has also played a key role in ensuring that the environment is not forgotten in the national development planning processes.


This article appears in the latest issue of the UNAMA Afghan Update magazine on the environment.

To download the magazine in English, Dari and Pashto please click here.

Website: United Nations Environment Programme