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Image: Natural Resource Management
 Photo: Ronny Hansen
Photo: Ronny Hansen

Natural Resource Management

Afghanistan’s natural resources can be used in a more effective and sustainable way. While water is underutilized in agriculture, grassland and forests suffer too much pressure. In some places, this has led to a vicious circle, increasing the chances of natural disasters.

Collapsing ecosystems

Insecurity and extreme poverty have taken their toll in Afghanistan. Over 30 years of conflict have long since reversed the agricultural advances that had been made in the 1960s and 1970s. Population growth, overgrazing, deforestation, unsustainable use of natural resources and the destruction of 2000 year old irrigation systems have in some places led to the collapse of a complete ecosystem. This is evident around the capital Kabul, which was once a green oasis, surrounded by lush wetlands and rich agricultural lands. Today, lake Kole Hashmat Khan is the only water body that remains of the wetlands and even that dries up in the late summer. The city is infamous for its air pollution, which gets worse when dry winds carry dust from the now arid surroundings.

Water shortages will increase

Although large parts of Afghanistan have always been arid, drought is an increasing problem. Photo: isafmedia under CClicense.Only a third of the water that originates from rain and snowmelt in Afghanistan is currently being used, and not in a very effective or productive way. Some areas of Afghanistan get less water than they did before, because of unsustainable water management or frequent droughts. On top of that, the population is growing fast. This leads the United Nations Environmental Program to estimate that “by 2025, the amount of water available per person will drop by a third from 2004 levels”. By 2050, each person will only have access to half of the water they had in 2004.

Conflict resolution is key to sustainable management

Conflicts over land and water are already rife. In 2013, an Afghan parliamentary committee estimated that powerful individuals had illegally confiscated over 500,000 hectares of land. If the estimate is correct, close to 7% of all arable land in Afghanistan may have been taken from people who previously depended on that land for food. Competition for land and disagreement on who can rightfully use land often leads to unsustainable land use. Too many animals grazing on the same piece of land leads to the deterioration of pastures and too many people collecting firewood from the same woods, or collecting wood to sell in markets can destroy a forest. Therefore, sustainable land use sometimes depends less on engineering than on conflict management.

Reforestation protects from floods and avalanches

Badakshan's mountainsides become even more vulnerable to mud slides and avalanches if the forest cover is ruptured. Photo: Elisabet Eikås/NAC.Unsustainable land use is directly linked to natural disasters and can create a vicious circle. Where a pasture has been overgrazed, farmers often destroy forestland to make new pastures for their animals. However, the forest cover is a natural protection from floods, mud slides and avalanches. If the new pasture is destroyed by a mud slide, even more forest will have to be destroyed to make a new pasture. Unfortunately, deliberate deforestation of this sort sometimes puts people’s homes and lives in direct danger. In 2009, floods killed nearly 1200 people and affected 29,000 households. Although Afghans have always been subject to natural disasters, extensive deforestation has increased the risk.



Sources:

Afghan agriculture e-portal, maintained by the University of California, Davis.

Afghanistan: Priorities for Agriculture and Rural Development, by the World Bank

Natural resource management and peacebuilding in Afghanistan, by the United Nations Country Team (2013).

Wild places > Kabul, webpage of the Wildlife Conservation Society Afghanistan, www.afghanistan.wcs.org

 

 

Norwegian Afghanistan Committee
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