Historically, Afghan society has been based on a traditional self-governing structure where issues affecting the community such as natural resource management are resolved by local decision-makers during consultations (or “shuras” as they are known in Afghanistan). After three decades of conflict across the country, the reach and rule of Afghanistan’s central government in rural areas has become particularly weak. Poor local enforcement of policies developed at a national level and a lack of environmental education within communities has often resulted in unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. It is therefore critical that these two governance structures (local and national) work together if conservation measures are to work effectively in Afghanistan in the future.
WCS aims to improve both central and rural governance in Afghanistan, and focuses much effort on building relations between the two levels through vertical coordination of its programs. WCS has been mobilizing community members since 2006 and is assisting the government to create new legislation and institute new policies at the national level. We then train both government staff and local community members in the application of these new policies. An important component of this is WCS’s Environmental Education Program that works alongside local government agencies and educational facilities to educate rural communities on the benefits of biodiversity and how wildlife conservation can ultimately benefit their communities as a whole. The WCS teams also work closely with the Provincial Government offices, training them in skills related to environmental legislation and public outreach. In this way, government staff can continue with the education program, helping to strengthen linkages between the national government and the populace.
Since 2006, WCS has developed community-based governance institutions and technical tools for resource management in over 55 communities across rural Afghanistan, linking communities with their national government. WCS facilitated the formation and democratic election of two such institutions in the provinces of Bamyan and Badakhshan, both of which demonstrate the effectiveness of co-managed environmental committees. In Bamyan, the Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee (BAPAC) was established in 2007 primarily to provide liaison between government and communities around Band-e-Amir National Park (as Afghanistan’s first officially declared protected area), to provide policy guidance on the Park’s management to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) including the submission of a three-year Preliminary Management Plan, and to administer any revenues generated from the Park. BAPAC includes representatives from the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), the Afghan Tourism Organization (ATO), the Provincial Council, the District Governor's Office, the Park’s warden (representing MAIL), and 14 local communities that surround Band-e-Amir National Park. Members meet regularly to discuss issues and ensure effective management of the park. WCS has also helped BAPAC to develop bylaws for the committee and facilitated many of their activities.
The Wakhan-Pamir Association (WPA) was established in Badakhshan during 2009, with assistance and technical advice from WCS, and is now registered as an official Social Organization. It is an umbrella organization consisting of members from each of the 42 Wakhan communities. WCS has worked with all the representatives to develop and institute natural resource rules and regulations for the area. The WPA holds regular coordination meetings with local government officials and has formulated a draft management plan for the Big Pamir Wildlife Preserve together with provincial and central government officials. Local communities and the government have also worked together with WCS to demarcate the boundaries of the future Big Pamir Wildlife Preserve.
By participating in BAPAC and WPA, all 56 of these communities have been empowered to take ownership of natural resource management and the protected area process in their own areas and are now better positioned to make decisions affecting their future. Likewise, government agencies have been able to coordinate with the rural communities living in and around Band-e-Amir and the Wakhan, helping all parties govern these areas effectively through these relationships.
WCS has also partnered with local, provincial and central government to facilitate the creation of Afghanistan’s first official Protected Species List that prohibits the hunting and trade for 48 of Afghanistan’s threatened species. WCS has helped to recruit and train government and community ranger patrol units in several vulnerable areas, and over 1.2 million hectares in strategic watersheds are now under improved natural resource management as a result of national ranger and community ranger patrolling and wildlife, rangeland and community surveys. WCS teams in Nuristan have also facilitated the formation of an Environment Shura, which issued rules banning hunting in the Waygal Valley of Nuristan Province.
WCS is working alongside a host of stakeholders in Kabul and throughout Bamyan and Badakhshan provinces to implement and manage the country’s first full suite of protected areas. An important component to this protected area planning process was a benefit-sharing model developed by the government, local communities and WCS in 2009. This model will ensure a fair distribution of benefits arising from protected areas to all the community and government agencies involved, and is currently being piloted in Band-e-Amir National Park under the Contracted Administrator Procedures developed by WCS. BAPAC and WPA are both members of the National Benefit-Sharing Working Group that also includes NEPA, MAIL, the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance, enabling multiple communities to access high levels of staff within these government institutions and express their desires and concerns. WCS also assisted villages around Band-e-Amir National Park to form and officially register Band-e-Amir Community Association (BACA), which – as a Social Organization – will have the legal authority to enter into benefit sharing agreements with the government of Afghanistan. This will allow the local communities to directly benefit from the national park admission fees in addition to income they derive from commercial activities targeting tourists.
Three public consultations were also conducted by WCS in 2009 that included representatives from 15 provinces across Afghanistan. These consultations made it possible for WCS and our government counterparts to communicate to a wide audience about natural resource use, protected areas and communication issues within Afghanistan.
During 2010 and now 2011, we have scaled up activities to provide and strengthen the country’s government and local governance structures with systems and capacity to sustainably manage and profit from Afghanistan’s natural resource base long into the future. The program incorporates local communities and government institutions into every aspect of project design and implementation, encouraging ownership of the work from the outset and thus creating a broad-based constituency for conservation and investment in conservation.