Reducing Environmental Degradation in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s environment is under extreme pressure: after decades of conflict a growing population and environmental disasters compound high levels of poverty and inequality, increasing pressures on natural resources. This has led to severe environmental degradation, reducing environmental resilience to landslides, floods and climate change in a country already at high risk of desertification.

Afghanistan, however, is rich in biological diversity, with a flora comprising ~5000 native taxa of which ~24% are endemic. A major threat to biodiversity identified in Afghanistan’s Fifth National Report to the CBD (2014) is the unsustainable collection of woody plants for fuel wood. These are often uprooted, preventing regeneration, and affecting the structure of the plant community and the biodiversity that depends upon it. A lack of capacity means that the scale of extractions, exactly which species are removed, and the effects on ecosystem services are poorly known. Unsustainable collection increases extinction risk, threatens ecosystem services and diminishes future fuel-stocks for communities.

“30 years ago we walked outside our home for fuel, 20 years ago we had to go over there, now we have to buy fuel or spend half a day gathering enough to cook the evening meal.”

ECO-A community interview

Current heating and cooking facilities do not use fuelwood efficiently, and cause indoor pollution that has been estimated by the World Health Organisation to kill ~54,000 women and children annually in Afghanistan, plus the concomitant negative effects on household labour and finance. There is thus a clear link between environmental degradation, health and livelihoods in rural communities that can be addressed through simple interventions and monitoring.

Working with rural communities and partners Ecology & Conservation Organization Afghanistan (ECO-A) and UN Environment in Bamyan Province, this project will focus on gathering baseline data on fuelwood extraction, provide more efficient fuel options, then measure the biodiversity impacts of reduced fuelwood collection and demonstrate clear improvements in livelihoods, health and gender equality for communities. This will be achieved by adding explicit biodiversity and environmental metrics to existing, proven and supported energy intervention programmes.