August 04, 2011

Events from Around Town: Biodiversity and Security in Afghanistan

Yesterday at the Rayburn House Office Building, the Wildlife
Conservation Society (WCS) hosted a discussion, “Biodiversity Conservation in
Afghanistan Advances U.S. Security Interests,” focusing on improving
livelihoods and governance through natural resource management in Afghanistan –
a cornerstone
to long-term stability
and achieving U.S. security interests in the
state.  As I learned yesterday, currently
the most significant threats to Afghanistan’s natural resources include illegal
hunting and trading, as well as an increase in deforestation and
desertification.  “Almost 80% of
Afghanistan’s people depend directly upon the natural resource base for their
survival and livelihoods, and three decades of near-continuous conflict has
badly degraded this base,” said Afghanistan program director of the Wildlife
Conservation Society, Dr. David Lawson. 
Most of WCS’s work in Afghanistan is community-based conservation,
focusing on the local level, mobilizing local communities to institute new
policies, laws and regulations and training community members “in natural
resource management so they can work together to help build a sustainable
future,” Lawson said.   

Another part of WCS’s work involves central governmental
capacity building, which works to “improve the capacity of the government to
take responsibility and manage the country’s critical resources,” according to
Lawson. With help from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and
the National Environmental Protection Agency, WCS has helped the Afghan
government to write environmental laws and regulations, as well as build nationally
protected area networks, train officials and build government structures.  Afghan individuals and communities
participating in natural resource management benefit by generating income (some
of them for the first time) and, as Lawson noted, “being able to benefit directly
from conservation activities, and that actions taken to protect and preserve
the environment can directly contribute to poverty reduction and improved
community livelihoods.” 

If environmental degradation and natural resource
mismanagement continue at their current pace in Afghanistan, “poverty will
spread, communities will dissolve, and rural migration will further erode
cultural connections and negatively affect neighboring communities, regions, and
the global community,” Lawson cautioned. (See Will’s post from Monday
on the challenges the government currently faces in its mining sector that
could exacerbate violence in some vulnerable regions.

As Christine and Will wrote in their June 2010 report, Sustaining
, effective natural resource management is critical to
the national security of both Afghanistan and the United States—“the effects of environmental degradation have been
devastating for the people of Afghanistan and…will confound long-term U.S.
goals in the region unless addressed
,” they wrote. The United States
has emphasized the importance of supporting food security and conservation. In
2009, President Obama identified “restor[ing]
Afghanistan’s once vibrant agriculture sector” as a key component in America’s
“overall effort to sap the strength of the insurgency.

To learn more about the impact of resources and
environmental degradation in Afghanistan, see our body of work on the blog
under the tab “Afghanistan.”