Afghanistan's environment in transition


This report provides a preliminary look at Afghanistan's environment, including an environmental policy and institutional framework; and provides the basis for coordinated action to address high priority environmental concerns in Afghanistan. Topics covered include

  • forestry
  • biodiversity and protected areas
  • water resources
  • rangelands
  • the impact of returning refugees and internally displaced persons on rural and urban areas.

Afghanistan's environment in transition

by Ali Azimi and David McCauley



Environment Sector Needs Assessment
Afghanistan's Environment
Defining the Environment Sector
Environmental Links between Humanitarian and Development Assistance


Renewable Resource Management

  • Water
  • Forests
  • Rangelands
  • Biodiversity/Protected Areas
  • Desertification

Pollution and Environmental Health

  • Urban and Industrial Pollution
  • Agrochemicals
  • Residuals of Warfare


Policy Framework
Environmental Governance


Short Term

  • Refinement of Interim Policy and Programming Framework
  • Coordination of Relief and Development Assistance

Long Term

  • Policy and Institutional Framework Development
  • Mainstreaming Environmental Considerations into All Sectors


Establishing Capacity for Implementing Environmental Safeguards
Environmental Information Development
Environmental Management Capacity Building Needs Assessment
Sustainable Water Resources Management
Sustainable Forest Management
Sustainable Rangelands Management
Renewable Energy Development
Protected Areas Management



Further References on Environmental Management in Afghanistan


Table 1: Land Use in Afghanistan, 1981
Table 2: Estimates of Agricultural Land Use 1990/1993
Table 3: Preliminary Water Balance for Afghanistan
Table 4: Designated Protected Areas
Table 5: Proposed Protected Areas


Figure 1: Map of Afghanistan
Figure 2: Land Use of Afghanistan
Figure 3: Deforestation in Southeast Afghanistan
Figure 4: Land Use Distribution


As Afghanistan struggles to recover from decades of war and depravation, many urgent needs are competing for at first thought it might seem that environmental issues are not a top priority, in fact they lie at the heart of the attention of the Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan (ITGA) and donor community. While current efforts to reestablish the basis for sustainable livelihoods for the country's people and a sound economic footing for broad-based development.

In addition to the demands of current residents, millions of refugees and internally displaced persons are returning to their homes-placing an incredible strain on Afghanistan's already seriously degraded natural resources and the ability to provide even the most basic urban environmental services. Safe drinking water and solid waste management services need to be supplied to rapidly growing urban populations to prevent widespread disease. The productivity of agricultural systems must be reestablished largely based on the rehabilitation of irrigation and animal husbandry systems if the rural population is to be fed. Deforestation is so advanced that there are severe shortages of fuelwood and building materials. Unless this trend is reversed, the country will endure heavy costs from upstream erosion and downstream siltation and seasonal flooding. Environmental issues are indeed day-to-day survival issues and are not luxuries to be dealt with later.

With this in mind, the donor community fielded to Afghanistan a team led by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and included members from the United Nations Environment Programme and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation to assess Afghanistan's environmental sector needs. This was in response to a Preliminary Needs Assessment for the sector presented at the Ministerial Meeting of the Afghan Reconstruction Steering Group in Tokyo in January 2002. The environmental team met with a range of stakeholders during their visit in March 2002 and gathered information on the most pressing environmental issues facing the country. They developed a preliminary policy and institutional framework and gained an indication of the highest priorities for donor support for near-term technical assistance. The "comprehensive needs assessment" that resulted from this mission formed the basis for this report, which was compiled by Ali Azimi of ADB's South Asia Department and David McCauley, an environmental policy consultant to ADB. The report also will serve as ADB's "Country Environmental Assessment" as required by its new environment policy.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the ITGA for guidance provided and to the line ministries and others who gave valuable assistance, information, and guidance to the team. Along with its planned support for other key sectors such as transport, energy and agriculture and natural resources, ADB looks forward to working with the Afghans to establish the basis for sound environmental and natural resource management, especially in view that its ecological base underpins the economy.

Director General
South Asia Department




This report provides perspectives on the most significant environmental issues currently facing Afghanistan as it emerges from years of conflict and isolation, and also recommends a set of approaches to address the highest priority problems identified. It is based on a needs assessment exercise undertaken by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Bank. A Preliminary Needs Assessment (PNA) was conducted during December 2001 to assist the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) with the identification and programming of high priority reconstruction and development activities across all sectors. The PNA outlined strategic choices for the country's redevelopment and presented these in a prioritized manner to the donor community with indicative funding requirements, including immediate needs (first year), short-term options (2 years) and long-term development initiatives (10 years).

The PNA exercise was finalized in January 2002 after further consultations with Afghan civil society representatives in Islamabad and members of the AIA in Kabul. The final PNA report was presented at the Ministerial Meeting of the Afghan Reconstruction Steering Group in Tokyo from 20 to 21 January 2002 and helped to form the basis for international assistance commitments to Afghanistan of some $4.5 billion.

Environment Sector Needs Assessment

At the Tokyo Ministerial Meeting it was agreed that missions would be organized and undertaken to prepare Comprehensive Needs Assessments (CNAs) for each of 18 sectors relating to Afghanistan's recovery and reconstruction. Accordingly, a multi-donor Environment Mission1 visited Afghanistan from 16 to 28 March 2002 to conduct a detailed needs assessment leading to a CNA for the environment sector. The objectives of the Environment Mission were to ascertain the needs of Afghanistan in the environment sector and to gain an indication of donor support for environmental aspects of the urgent priorities identified in the PNA report. As in the case of other CNA efforts, the aim of the Environment Mission and subsequent environment sector analysis was to produce a program owned by the Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan (ITGA) and adhered to by the donors so that both external and internal financing can be channeled in a coordinated fashion - especially to avoid overburdening the limited implementation capacity of the ITGA.

The Environment Mission consulted with key stakeholdersto produce a preliminary framework for the environment sector comprising a policy and institutional framework and a set of interim donor coordination arrangements; and proposed technical assistance for near-and medium-term implementation. This report on Afghanistan's environment in transition builds on the work of the Environment Mission and provides an expansion of these elements as the basis for coordinated action to address high priority environmental concerns in Afghanistan.

Those involved in this planning and coordination exercise express their deep appreciation for the guidance provided by the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) and the the ITGA throughout this process, particularly through the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority (AACA), and for the cooperation and assistance of the line ministries and others who have provided information and guidance. This is meant to be a living document subject to refinement as comments are received and the extremely weak database on Afghanistan's environmental resources is improved. Peer review is ongoing, and comments are welcome. Due to the limitations of time and information, this document is certainly not comprehensive in its coverage. It is hoped, however, that it will serve as a useful reference and starting point for the coordination of sorely needed environmental assistance to Afghanistan.


1 The Mission was led by ADB, and comprised: Ali Azimi of ADB as mission leader; Stefan Micallef and Purna Rajbhandari of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and Kjell Esser of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. David McCauley, an ADB staff consultant, also assisted with preparation of this report, and Ronald Petocz contributed to the section on biodiversity conservation and protected areas management.

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This publication was prepared by staff and consultants for the Asian Development Bank. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Bank or those of its member governments. The Asian Development Bank does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this publication and accepts no responsibility whatsoever for any consequences of their use.


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