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66 ENVIRONMENT •• National Parks

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Much of Afghanistan is sparsely vegetated. The mountain slopes of the east are the greenest parts of the country, with a mix of oak, juniper, pistachio and pine forest. All of Afghanistan’s forests are threatened; it’s thought that in the last 25 years the amount of wooded area has tumbled six-fold to around 0.5% of the country’s landmass. The northern plains are dry and at first glance fairly lifeless, but they

hide a fertility that springs into life every April and May with the rains, turning the swathes of land a deep green sprinkled with colourful blooms of wild tulips and gentians. The deserts of the south on the other side of the mountains receive little of this water. Vegetation here seldom stretches beyond camel thorn, mimosa and sagebrush.

NATIONAL PARKS

On paper, Afghanistan initially appears to have a number of national parks and wildlife reserves. Facts on the ground are a little murkier. While several parks and reserves were listed in the late 1970s, no legal protec- tion was ever granted, while any hope of control was gradually eroded by the years of war. These include the Band-e Amir National Park near Bamiyan; the waterfowl sanctuaries of Ab-i-Estada at Ghazni and Kol-e Hashmat Khan in Kabul; and the wildlife reserves of Ajar Valley (also near Bamiyan), the Big Pamir in the Wakhan Corridor, and Registan Desert Reserve in the south. Band-e Amir, known for the unique geological features that make up its six mineral lakes, became Afghanistan’s first national park in 1973. The influx of domestic tourists and their waste pose a particular problem for management of the area, as well as landmines along some approaches to the lakes, although when we visited both a national park office and gatehouse appeared to be under construction and the uncontrolled fish- ing on Band-e Haibat had largely disappeared. Afghanistan contains some important wetlands, although these have

The New-York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (www.wcs.org) has been leading the way in the Afghan Pamirs, surveying wildlife, working with local com- munities on conservation issues and lobbying for protected status for the region.

been severely depleted by the persistent drought of the 1990s. Ab-i-Estada was a major stopping-off point for migratory waterfowl and Siberian cranes, as well as a nesting site for flamingo. On the edge of Kabul, Kol-e Hashmat Khan was a large reed-covered lake that was a favourite waterfowl hunting spot for Afghan royalty and Kabulis alike, but it is now almost completely dry. In Nimroz, Hamoun-i-Pouzak Sanctuary sits on the border with Iran, where the Helmand river disappears into a number of shallow lakes – another major centre for waterfowl. At the time of going to press, Afghanistan was due to become a signatory of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. In north Afghanistan, reserves have been proposed at Imam Sahib along the Amu Darya, and the areas of Herat and Badghis provinces bordering Turkmenistan. The latter area used to be home to a population of wild ass (almost certainly now locally extinct), and still harbours small numbers of urial sheep, goitered gazelle and leopard among its remnant juniper forests. Imam Sahib is home to wild boar, otter, jackal, porcupine and possibly Bukhara deer.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

War has taken its toll on the Afghan environment, both through di- rect pressure on land, such as degradation and direct war damage, and through the complete breakdown of systems of resource management, from the village level up to the government. The environmental problems facing the country are myriad.

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ENVIRONMENT •• Environmental Issues 67

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Perhaps the biggest problem has been the large scale clearing of Af-

ghanistan’s forests, most notably in the heavily wooded provinces of Nuristan, Kunar, Khost, Paktika and Paktia. While much damage has been done by local populations and passing refugees in need of firewood, clear-cutting by mujaheddin to smuggle timber into Pakistan has caused widespread deforestation, while the huge profits have entrenched crimi- nality. This has made large swathes of these areas prone to soil erosion and flooding. In the northwest, the once productive pistachio forests have also been largely cleared, causing more long-term economic damage. Aid agencies have started reforestation programmes in many areas, but the scale of the problem is enormous, and government control in some of the most heavily logged areas along the eastern border remains sketchy. Poaching and hunting remains an issue. Birds of prey in particular are

caught and sold in the Gulf. The Taliban went as far as building an airstrip in the Registan to facilitate Arab sponsors who came to hunt houbara bustards – a popular pursuit of Osama Bin Laden. Landmines continue to plague agricultural and urban environments. Pollution is an increasing problem, particularly in cities like Kabul with their growing populations and creaking infrastructure. Access to potable water and sewage systems are both hugely inadequate. The Afghan gov- ernment, together with UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is at- tempting to address some of these issues, and has become a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, but there’s a long way to go before real progress can be marked on the ground as well as on paper.

The 2003 Afghanistan

Post-Conflict Environmen- tal Assessment Report

by the UN Environment Programme (http://post conflict.unep.ch/) is a key starting point for the investigating the current state of the Afghan environment. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123
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