The conflict is not the only urgent concern that challenges our future

By:Thomas Kieschnick

In a Heinrich-Böll-Foundation organized conference NGOs and Afghan civil society organizations exchanged their views on the challenges and threats of environmental pollution in Afghanistan. Besides naming the problems they formulated political demands and proposed solutions to the most urgent concerns.

When it comes to Afghanistan the public discourse in Europe is mostly focussed on armed conflict, the Taliban and the engagement of the international community in military as well as civilian dimensions. Hence, most of the engagement of international NGOs in Afghanistan is structured along these topics. But for Afghan society there are matters of concern that often are the same as urgent, if not more. They therefore present another important field for the engagement of Afghan civil society actors.

It was in this context that Heinrich-Böll-Foundation Afghanistan, together with its Afghan partner organization, the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS) organized a conference on environmental issues this year at Kabul’s Serena Hotel. The response was overwhelming. With more than 150 participants from Afghan and international NGOs, universities and the ministries there have been a lot of discussions on environmental issues haunting Afghanistan, like air and water pollution, the garbage problems in the cities, and a sustainable energy supply.

But surprisingly the panellists and the audience have not just been focused on naming the problems and challenges for an ecological Afghanistan. Instead, in more detailed discussions and presentations solutions have been introduced on how to cope with those matters of concern. Among those have not just been technical ones. The issue of ecological awareness among the Afghan population was raised as well as the lack of responsibility of the Afghan government, which is preoccupied with military security. Hence, the conference also had a political dimension. It was argued how the environmental demands of the population can be translated into governmental action. The urgency of this mission was emphasized by the fact that currently more people in Afghanistan are dying of diseases caused by the pollution of air and water than killed by insurgency and counterinsurgency together.

Although environment can be considered a common good as physical security is, political demands on this topic were seldom articulated along ethnical, tribal or confessional lines of definition. Accordingly, first traces of a pluralistic civil society could be detected in this area.

However, this successful conference on environment was an impressive sign that the global fight against the threats of a changing climate is nothing to be solely decided in the industrialized states. Environmental issues are a matter of concern for everybody on the planet so the engagement. The demands of Afghan civil society in this area should be taken seriously by the Afghan government and the international community as well.