Community mobilization helps protect Afghanistan's natural resources
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As 80% of the Afghanistan population is living in rural areas of the country, it was recognized that the environmental management and mainstreaming at central level on its own will not achieve the countrywide targets as committed by the government in achievements of MDGs. To address this issue, the Afghanistan JP has taken an approach which addresses two levels:
- Mobilization of communities for natural resource management (NRM): NRM training (awareness and techniques) were conducted in targeted provinces.
- Creating a framework which puts communities into the network for environmental prioritization and decision making, to help their voices to be heard. Communities in the targeted provinces have been integrated in a new framework which links national and sub-national governance levels, and also improves harmonization across different sectors.
The main lesson learned from this component of the JP is that community-based work and centralized environmental activities (such as mainstreaming), if carried out in isolation from one another, will have limited long term effectiveness. If communities are not aware of environmental priorities or information from upper levels, then overarching goals cannot be achieved – and vice versa; if higher governance levels are not aware of the situation in different communities, then set environmental goals may be contradictory or even unachievable. The environmental actions and voices of individual communities must be connected to the centralized environmental management: both levels, when conducted together, create a stronger foundation for NRM in the long term.
Purpose of the activity
The purpose of the activity was to enable the government of Afghanistan at institutional and policy level to introduce sustainable planning in development; and management of environment and natural resources at national and sub-national levels.
Original issue addressed by the activity
Poor environmental and social conditions in the targeted provinces: The rangeland upon which a large segment of the population depends to raise their livestock has been overgrazed for decades. The rangeland became severely deteriorated and in very poor condition. The destruction of rangeland exposes the soil to rainstorms and increased its vulnerability to soil erosion. This resulted in poor productivity of livestock, range land degradation, soil erosion and poverty.
Project implementation started late to mainstream environment in sector strategy: The Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) and other sectors strategy was developed and finalized before JP started its implementation in Afghanistan. The project after review of ANDS and all sectors strategy developed National Environment Mainstreaming Guideline to advise different sectors on sustainable planning. The Provincial Development Plans (PDPs) were also developed during the sub-national consultation for the ANDS formulation.
Inadequate Coordination between provincial level departments: Inadequate co-ordination and harmonization between and among government departments at provincial levels slowed the rate of environmental mainstreaming into provincial level planning. This affected project activities that require departmental coordination such as the environment mainstreaming. Because of its cross-cutting nature, environment management and mainstreaming require co-ordinate action of all the departments.
Strategy chosen to address the issue
The programme coordinated the activities with Government and UN partners at sub-national level to use the government-recognized community’s councils and entities as a vehicle for project implementation. At this level the Provincial Environmental Advisory Councils (PEACs) process bring relevant provincial departments together and are part of the PEACs providing a forum for better coordination and working together on matters of environment management at provincial level.
The Environmental Sub-committees in District level DDAs and Village level CDCs will provide sustainable inputs to the local planning process and will also ensure environmental and natural resources protection and management at District and Village level. Through these institutions, the communities are also to be linked with Kabul, and have their voices in priority setting and decision making.
NRM goals were to be achieved through community awareness raising and technical assistance to implement NRM techniques. Note that in all community-related work, all the involved communities are legal entities of the government of Afghanistan. Needs of the community members were respected to the largest extent possible, including the voices and needs of women who comprised 30% of each committee i.e. PEACs, Environmental Sub-committees in the existing DDAs and CDCs. Additionally, community elders and religious scholars are also members of the PEACs.
Implementation of the strategy
We started with community mobilization, explaining the objective and the plan and the benefits to the communities; as well as the roles and obligations of both the project and the community.
The communities of targeted provinces were sensitized on the importance of natural resources management and environmental protection. Advanced techniques of range land restoration, seedlings and seeds were introduced to the communities. Technical assistance was also provided to them at field level demonstrations. Some income generation activities have also piloted to empower women and encourage communities to have alternative sources for their livelihood. The community provided labour in reseeding deteriorated rangeland, the project provided machinery, seeds, transportation, and technical assistance. We continue to follow up on the restored rangeland.
In addition to the community-level work, Provincial Environmental Advisory Councils and Environmental Sub-committees were established in the target provinces to connect government at national level with communities for better response to international conventions and MDGs achievements.
Challenges and Innovations
The main challenge faced in this activity was how to link the local communities with the national government for a bottom up approach to planning, to have the voices of the communities heard in decision making at both national and sub-national levels. This challenge was overcome by the establishment of PEACs and Environmental Sub-committees in the existing structure of DDAs and CDCs and also linked them with national level institutions. The other challenge was their coordination, which has been overcome by establishing coordination mechanism with Provincial Development Committees (PDCs), government legal body for sub-national planning chaired by governors and communities through District Development Assemblies (DDAs) and Community Development Councils (CDCs).
Results and Impacts
The SAISEM JP trained the communities in Natural Resources Management (NRM) and techniques of degraded rangeland restoration. The JP also trained the women on kitchen gardening and poultry rising, and provided them with toolkit and vegetable seeds for income generation and natural resources protection because poverty is the big enemy of rural environment.
Environmental awareness and sensitization workshops were arranged for Environmental Sub-committees. Training has also been provided on the importance of Natural Resources for their livelihood, and how to manage it sustainably to protect the environment. The communities in the target area are already linked with DDAs and PEACs for better coordination among all to manage the natural resources and protect the environment.
After the success we met in this intervention and the positive response of the local community, we will extend this to other parts of these provinces and introduce it in Badghis province.
Environment considerations to be mainstreamed into DDPs, PDP and PSP process though Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) and Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG). These institutions are responsible for district and provincial level planning process.
Potential replication / application
Within Afghanistan, it is clear that the approach taken has been institutionalized and will be replicated in the country. Environment is one of the six cross-cutting issues which are to be mainstreamed in all eight sectors of ANDS; therefore the PEAC will coordinate the environmental concern of the communities with all directorates at sub-national level to mainstream the environmental issues in their development plans. The PEAC secretariat (according to the recommendations of their meetings) will coordinate the environmental concern to other sub-national directorates and players (working at sub-national level) in Provincial Development Committee (PDC) meeting for their consideration in the related development plans and policies.
The Provincial directorate of NEPA will provide the responsibility of Secretariat, for better functioning of PEAC at sub-national level. The PEAC secretariat will report to NEPA Kabul department of provincial coordination. The NEPA senior management will discuss all related concerns with all ministries in Inter-ministerial Environment Coordination Committee meetings.
This major lesson learned from Afghanistan can also be of use to contexts outside of Afghanistan. Linking dispersed communities with provincial and central government authorities and decision making, is particularly important in countries where the majority of the population are still primarily rural. By creating a two-way mechanism whereby the imperatives of sound natural resource management (and techniques to achieve this) are imparted on communities, but also allowing these same communities to voice their own priorities for development back up to the central decision making powers, then more appropriate and more sustainable environmental management can be achieved. While the specific institutional mechanisms by which this is being achieved in Afghanistan may not be exactly replicable in other contexts, the central message is that there must be a formalized structure, and commitment on the part of different stakeholders, in order to maximize the potential of such local-to-national level partnerships.
PEAC Guideline, National Environmental Mainstreaming Guideline and Terms of Reference of the PEAC secretariat and members.