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UNEP to assess environmental damage in Afghanistan

Five teams totalling 20 Afghani and international scientists and experts will depart Kabul today to collect samples and examine sites around the country in the first-ever effort to assess how 30 years of conflict have affected Afghanistan's environment.

Kabul/Nairobi, 12 September 2002 - Five teams totalling 20 Afghani and international scientists and experts will depart Kabul today to collect samples and examine sites around the country in the first-ever effort to assess how 30 years of conflict have affected Afghanistan's environment.

"Although often forgotten when conflicts end and reconstruction begins, the natural environment is the foundation for all human society and civilization," said Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which is leading the assessment. "To succeed in the long-term, the rebuilding of Afghanistan must therefore include efforts to revive and protect wildlife and ecosystems, clean up contaminated sites, and manage natural resources such as freshwater and forests more sustainably," he said.

It is estimated that Afghanistan has lost up to 30% of its forests since 1979, so that less than 2% of the country remains forested. Rangelands, watersheds, and agricultural areas are also severely degraded. Afghanistan boasts a rich heritage of biological diversity, but its six protected areas cover less than one percent of the land.

"During almost 30 years of conflict, Afghanistan's environment has been heavily damaged by military activities, refugee movements, the overexploitation of natural resources, and a lack of management and institutional capacity," said Pekka Haavisto, Chairman of the UNEP Afghanistan Task Force. "The past three years of drought have worsened this damage. Assessing and repairing the country's environment will prove vital to the long-term well-being of the Afghan people. In addition, protecting the environment will support sustainable rural development and enhance job creation in Afghanistan," he said.

The tasks of the mission's five assessment teams are to:

  • Identify urban pollution hotspots and other threats to the urban environment and human health;

  • Determine the legal and ecological status, condition, and extent of existing and potential protected areas, wetlands, and forested areas;

  • Identify immediate and long-term threats to these sites;

  • Determine management and remediation strategies to ameliorate, improve, protect, and maintain the natural resources of these sites;

  • Collect baseline data on environmental conditions, biodiversity, and other relevant parameters;

  • Transfer knowledge and build capacity through on-site training of Afghan experts, workshops, discussion sessions, and seminars; and

  • Generate reports detailing findings and providing recommendations and project proposals. The field missions will be supplemented by an environmental analysis based on remote sensing using a combination of classic optical and state-of-the-art synthetic aperture radar technology.

In addition, UNEP will conduct an in-depth analysis of international environmental conventions to determine what opportunities and potential benefits they may offer Afghanistan. UNEP will also assess Afghanistan's existing environmental institutions and provide recommendations for structuring the environmental administration in a way that meets Afghanistan's needs and incorporates best international practices.

The final report detailing the findings will be published in December 2002. The report will also recommend projects for improving or remediating environmental threats, improving the institutional framework, increasing Afghanistan's capacity for environmental management and protection, creating jobs in the environmental sector, and improving the implementation of international environmental agreements.

The UNEP mission is financially supported by a number of governments, including Finland and Switzerland. The UNEP environmental assessment is being full coordinated with the Afghan Assistance Coordination Agency (AACA), in cooperation with the Ministry for Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Public Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE) have all seconded an expert to participate in the field mission. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) is providing overall support for the assessment.

Note to journalists: For more information, please contact UNEP Afghanistan Task Force Chairman Mr. Pekka Haavisto at +41-79-477-0877 (a Swiss cell phone)/ In Geneva, contact Henrik Slotte, Head of UNEP Post-Conflict Assessment Unit at +41-22-9178598/, or UNEP Press Officer Michael Williams at +41-22-9178242/+41-79-409-1528 (cell)/ Eric Falt, UNEP Spokesperson and Director of the Division of Communications and Public Information, at + 254 2 623292/ or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, at + 254 2 623084/

UNEP News Realease 2002/64

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