The head of the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) in Afghanistan office has warned that the country’s diverse water sources are now under stress, and must be protected.
Marking the International Day of Biological Diversity on May 22, which took the theme of “water and biodiversity,” UNEP’s Afghanistan country director Andrew Scanlon noted that “the challenge amidst efforts for national development and growth is to understand, recognize and take action to manage and protect the biodiversity resources that the country possesses, and on which its sustainable development in future decades will be built.”
The situation in some parts of the country is already acute – last year, the Afghan government launched a $6 million USD climate change initiative through its National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA). The program, which UNEP is implementing with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), aims to help communities vulnerable to climate change effects such as drought and to undertake capacity-building work to address climate change risk through community watershed management activities and improved water management and efficiency.
UNEP has identified Afghanistan as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Natural ecosystems throughout the country have been found to be fragile, and exacerbated by the impact of population growth, climatic variability, and frequent droughts and floods.
Some 75 percent of the country is classified as vulnerable to desertification, with around 80 percent of the water supply coming from rivers that are fed by snowmelt in the Hindu Kush Mountains. A UNEP report from 2009 also warns that poor sanitation and waste management threaten these intermittent sources and vital aquifers.
The poor water supply is also seen as a serious issue for the 80 percent of the country’s population that rely on subsistence farming. UNEP has repeatedly warned that water is a major issue in both urban and rural areas due to water scarcity, mismanagement and damaged water systems.
Water mismanagement is also seen as a contributing factor to the increase in sandstorms afflicting several countries in the region, including Afghanistan, which formed the basis of a meeting earlier this month to discuss ways to reduce their impact and future investment in related actions.
Although Afghanistan uses just one-third of its potential 75,000 million cubic meters of freshwater annually, inefficient use and wastage mean that most of the population regularly experiences scarcity, and just 20 percent have access to a safe water supply.
Scanlon told OOSKAnews: “Afghanistan has magnificent natural heritage and biological resources, and they are fragile and need to be protected.” He notes that NEPA completed a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan in 2012 under the leadership of relevant government ministries, Afghan universities and citizens.
Among the actions outlined in this document are commitments to develop and implement measures to prevent damage to ecosystems from invasive alien species; to control the impacts on biodiversity of climate change, desertification and pollution; and to develop and implement mechanisms to ensure sustainable use of biodiversity resources.