Afghanistan - Main Details

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Afghanistan is an arid country making the few wetlands that do exist of great significance to biodiversity. The vast areas of sub-alpine vegetation were probably originally steppe grassland but are now almost entirely comprised of grazing-resistant cushion shrub land. Afghanistan was one of the most significant centres for the origin and development of humanity’s crop plants. Consequently, there are numerous local landraces of wheat and other crops in use by Afghan farmers. Approximately 20% of Afghan cropland is currently irrigated while the remainder is based on dryland or rain-fed farming. There are three Global 200 ecoregions in Afghanistan, all of which are in the mountainous regions of the northeast. Of these ecoregions, 38% of Afghanistan’s land areas are endangered while 61% are classified as vulnerable and only 1% as stable. The ecoregions which are most threatened are in an arc around the country’s mountain chain and consist of open and closed woodlands covering approximately 49,124 km² or 8% of the country. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) classifies 70% of this biome as globally endangered, 26% as vulnerable and 4% as stable. Closed forest is now only represented by 5% of its original forest cover representing 0.25% of the country’s area. Satellite imagery could only detect open woodland in two provinces suggesting that open woodlands may now be on the verge of extinction as a viable ecosystem throughout much of Afghanistan. With increasing populations, ranges near inhabited areas are becoming denuded of shrub vegetation with dried shrubs and dung the major sources of fuel in much of rural Afghanistan. There are no data on trends in the rates of loss of Afghanistan’s natural habitats.

Little information exists for the 1979-2002 period and information after this time is largely limited to the relatively secure central and northeastern parts of the country. Consequently, trends in biodiversity can only be assessed based on opportunistic measurements, remote sensing, published statistics, intuitive interpretation and anecdotal information. Additional basic biological surveys and synthesis work need to be undertaken to better understand the conditions related to biodiversity in the country.

Nine local breeds of sheep are found in Afghanistan along with 8 breeds of cattle and 7 breeds of goats. There are 137-150 mammal species, 428-515 bird species, 92-112 reptile species, 6-8 amphibian species, 101-139 fish species, 245 butterfly species and 3500-4000 vascular plant species native to Afghanistan. The range given for each species is uncertain and the validity of some records is questionable. Ibex populations in the Ajar Valley have declined from approximately 5,000 animals in the late 1970s to less than 250 today. Since the late 1970s, Marco Polo sheep have remained stable or declined slightly in the Small Pamir, however are declining at a rate of about 5% per year in the Big Pamir. Anecdotal evidence suggests populations of most Afghan species have been reduced dramatically in the past 30 years with some national-scale extinctions known. It appears that most species and environments are in decline and that the rate of this decline has increased since the onset of conflict in 1979. The extent of Afghanistan’s biodiversity loss and ecological degradation are so profound and extensive that halting the decline and restoring a level of ecological integrity to the country will be a massive and long-term undertaking.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Threats to Afghanistan’s biodiversity are land encroachment, over-hunting, deforestation, over-grazing, shrub collection, dryland farming, water diversion and climate change. All of these threats have worsened in recent years. For instance, deforestation appears to continue unabated today. Wingard et al (2008) estimated that firewood harvest for the Kabul market alone results in the destruction of 10,000 ha of oak forest and 15,000 ha of juniper forest each year in Paktiya and Khost Provinces. Illegal export of timber to Pakistan is significant, but unquantifiable because of security concerns. According to some communities, catastrophic landslides and floods associated with spring rains and snowmelt have become increasingly common in recent years.

Water diversions and increasingly frequent droughts are drying wetlands and rivers with unknown effects on aquatic biodiversity. The problem of wetland loss can be expected to worsen as Afghanistan diverts more water for irrigation, hydroelectric and flood control, as more wetlands are drained for agriculture and urbanization and as drought becomes more common through climate change. Desertification in Afghanistan already affects more than 75% of the total land area in the northern, western and southern regions as a result of grazing and deforestation. The US Department of Agriculture world map depicting the threat of human-induced desertification shows that most of Afghanistan is in the Very High risk category.

Hunting and trapping are perhaps the greatest threats to many large mammals and birds in Afghanistan. Waterfowl hunting is widely practiced, while large mammal hunting is undertaken for sport by the elite in some places or opportunistically by local people. However, large animals are now very rare due to the proliferation of weapons that many once keen hunters have abandoned the practice. The major underlying threat to biodiversity is the abject poverty of most Afghan citizens.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Afghanistan is currently seeking funds to develop its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) which is in preparation. To date, the National Adaptation Programme of Action and the National Capacity Self-Assessment have been the only planning initiatives undertaken specifically to address the CBD. A rapidly increasing human population is the major underlying challenge to biodiversity conservation and quality of life. The population has doubled since 1979 and can be expected to increase to 61-79 million people by 2050.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

In 2009, UNEP initiated efforts to establish Shah Foladi in the Koh-i-Baba Range as a protected area. However, the development of protected areas is in the initial phase only and to date no protected areas have been formally established. So far, formal steps toward recognition have been limited to one area, the Band-i-Amir Lakes region. Accomplishments at Band-i-Amir include providing conservation education, establishing and improving existing walking paths, and clearing garbage from around lakes and dams. Also, due to a variety of institutional reasons, the government has not legally designated its first national park nor allocated funding to its management.

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is implementing the Afghan Conservation Corps (ACC) project funded by the US Department of Agriculture through a Participating Agency Service Agreement (PASA) with USAID. The project began in October 2004 and is intended to provide local employment through conservation-related activities. These include support to three forest management committees to protect the pistachio woodland in Samangan, collaborating with the Ministry of Education to incorporate conservation education into the curricula, providing conservation education materials and activities to students in numerous provinces, and working with women to conserve horticultural diversity by planting seedlings and native flowers on public and government lands. At Kol-i-Hashmat wetland in Kabul, garbage and silt were cleared, trees were planted and a bridge reconstructed.

The United Nations Coordination Team (UNCT) created the Green Afghanistan Initiative (GAIN) in recognition that the magnitude of environmental degradation in Afghanistan far exceeds the capacity of individual Government ministries and agencies to resolve the situation single-handedly. GAIN is a joint programme of six United Nations Organisations (WFP, UNAMA, UNDP, UNOPS, FAO, UNEP). The objectives of GAIN are to increase natural vegetation and forest cover, provide alternative sustainable livelihoods, increase environmental awareness through education and build capacity at institutional and community levels.

In recognition of the need to address both poverty and resource overuse, CRS (Catholic Relief Services) has initiated a sustainable land management programme that aims at combining bio-physical watershed restoration activities with support for income generation and the provision of agricultural services. Interventions range from the construction of water harvesting schemes to community-based re-vegetation programs in support of agro-enterprise activities. CRS also works with communities and government agencies to encourage and support community-based resource management initiatives that include biodiversity protection components in selected micro-watersheds of western and central Afghanistan, in accordance with new national laws being developed.

The instability that has gripped the country for 30 years has resulted in Afghanistan being among the very poorest countries in the world. Consequently, biodiversity conservation and implementation of the CBD have not been a high priority for Afghanistan and many Afghan citizens have been more concerned with survival than with nature conservation, even though many recognize its importance in the deep, intuitive manner that rural people often do.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The greatest success in the past five years has been in developing environmental policy, laws and procedures which effectively incorporate best current practice. For instance, in the past two years, Afghanistan has promulgated the Environment Law and the EIA Regulations and has several more laws and regulations in the pipeline (Protected Area Regulations, Fauna Conservation and Hunting Regulation, Rangeland Law, Draft Forest Law). In total, biodiversity-related projects have received approximately $71M in recent years with more than $11M in the pipeline.

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic governed by Shari’a law which for the most part complements the modern principles of environmental management. For example, the notion of sustainable development is consistent with the principle of khilafah (environmental stewardship) contained in the Qur’an. The Constitution does not grant citizens an environmental right per se, but rather imposes a corollary duty on the State to adopt necessary measures for safeguarding the environment. The technical capacity for the management of natural resources lies with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock while the Environmental Protection Agency possesses the policy-setting and regulatory expertise. The existing disconnection between the legal authority and tradition and expertise on the other is a current source of uncertainty and paralysis.

The lack of administrative and technical capacity and inadequate funding to the government has resulted in a lack of governmental implementation of biodiversity policy and programmes at the ground level. Institutions and NGOs had stepped in to fill this gap but, by necessity, have expended most of their time and resources on developing the conceptual, legal, and policy structure that will provide the foundation for future implementation which has been most lacking in terms of field-level protection of biodiversity.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The administrative burden of full environmental impact assessment is beyond the current capacity of the government so interim EIA Regulations intended to provide some assessment, while not hindering the development vitally necessary to Afghanistan’s economy, are currently in force. The difficult and deteriorating security situation present in the country means that only a few relatively safe areas can be visited and monitored by NGO or government personnel. According to one estimate (ICOS 2008), as much as 72% of the country is now problematic for foreigners and government officials to visit.