Not so many days are remaining until the presidential elections in Afghanistan. Over the last few days, election campaigns by presidential contenders have taken more momentum. Nevertheless, most of the candidates have not yet presented clear plans to the public. This is especially true for the discussion of domestic issues. What appears more on the media in the very popular debating programmes or in the public programs held by the presidential candidates themselves are issues pertaining to foreign policy including relations with the US and the Bilateral Security Agreement, negotiations with the Taliban, economic development and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Such topics are so intensively discussed at various forums that issues related to environment remain out of focus and are not given any importance.
It has been observed that none of the presidential candidates have so far touched the issue of environmental protection in their speeches to the public. This happens at times when discussing issues related to the environment is an international priority for the governments of the world. Environmental programs are among key issues that are focused in election campaigns in developed countries. In Afghanistan, however, no or little attention is being paid to environmental protection, neither from the presidential candidates nor from the people.
Additionally, not only there is no talk of environmental issues in the election campaigns but also grounds and sports stadiums used for holding public gatherings as part of these campaigns are polluted by supporters of the candidates. Election posters on the other hand can be seen on all the walls in the cities. The National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), Afghanistan’s environmental policy making and regulatory institution, is also concerned over the fact that the presidential contenders are not focusing on environment-related issues. Muhammad Kazim Humayun, Head of the Planning Unit of NEPA, wants the presidential candidates to put the issue of environmental protection in their priority list and deliver specific and clear programs in this regard to the people. He also wants the people to take such issues as serious for living a better life and vote for those candidates who have better plans for environmental development of the country.
We tried to find out what plans the presidential runners have for environmental protection and contacted most of the candidates. Our newspaper was successful to obtain the plans for environmental protection from two candidates namely, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Mujib-ur-Rahman Rahimi, one of the spokespersons of election campaign team of Abdullah Abdullah said: “In our belief clean and healthy environment is the basis for development of every society. All development programs must ensure that enough attention is given to environmental protection. Various kind of environmental problems such as air, water and land pollution have made life difficult in the major cities of the country and have negatively impacted people’s health. The environment in rural areas has also been badly damaged where pastures, farming fields and village life are suffering from negative impacts of such damages. Same is the reason for people’s migration from rural to urban areas.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan has a very rich environment that is diverse and beautiful. Protecting natural resources and environment would be among the foremost priorities of our government. Over the past three decades of war and even before that no proper attention has been paid to protecting the environment. The government, in cooperation from concerned organizations, must put environmental protection on priority.”
Mr. Rahimi presented Dr. Abdullah’s plans for environmental protection as follows:
- Counter air pollution
- Effective disposal of solid waste
- Protection of water resources, including ground and surface water
- Maintenance of natural forests and pastures
- Protection of national and natural parks
- Raising the standards for quality of vehicles by intensifying controls at the borders
- Providing facilities to restrict out-dated vehicles that cause air pollution
- Encouraging vehicle and factory owners to use natural gas and increasing gas imports or developing natural gas processing plants in the country
- Transferring factories and industrial centers away from the major cities
- Creating proper drainage systems to prevent contamination of groundwater
- Establishing proper canalization for sewage water disposal
- Banning the uncontrolled use of national pastures and fields
- Increasing plantation of trees and forests to create green belts around the major cities
- Encouraging people to protect forests and lush environment
- Banning hunting in national parks
- Increasing protected areas and intensifying their control
- Raising public awareness on the importance of environment and forest protection
- Preventing smuggling of woods and cutting of trees. • Strengthening public organizations and environmental agencies
- Increasing participation of government agencies in protecting the environment
At the same time, Abdul Ali Muhammadi, an organizer of national programs of Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in an interview to 8am said, “Evaluations indicate that major factors behind environmental problems are climate warming, draught, deforestation leading to shrinking cultivatable lands and natural disasters, etc.. We have certain plans to counter such factors.”
Muhammadi presents ten points for dealing with environmental problems as part of Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s programmes:
- Control fuel quality
- Focus on transport condition and establishment of effective transportation systems
- 5-year master plan for housing in all provinces including Kabul, promoting greenery and preventing low quality and irregular housing
- Promote the culture of feeling responsible against protecting the environment
- Rehabilitation of cultivatable lands, greenery and forest through latest methods
- Establishment and management of proper irrigation systems and equal distribution of water in the country
- Prevent boring irregular tube wells
- Proper management of water in cities
- Encourage people towards not damaging their environment
- Mutual cooperation system at regional level for addressing environmental problems
Other presidential candidates have not yet presented their particular plans especially those related to environment to the people. It seems as if they deem environmental issues as unimportant. In an interview to 8am, Dawood Sultanzoi said, “Fast-growing forests must be developed in the country. We can add it to our agricultural system. We have plans for forest protection, river banks and forestry.”
Meanwhile, Hidayat Amin Arsala in one of his media appearances emphasized over management of water resources. He said Afghanistan had not yet solved the issue of its rivers with the neighboring countries. He added that if he won the election he would work on the Ammu Darya river project to solve the issue of lack of adequate water in the northern areas of the country. In general, it seems as the presidential candidates merely are dependent on slogans and are expressing their opinions instead of delivering practicable and useful plans and policies. The period between now and the Election Day is very short. If in the remaining days the presidential candidates do not present specific plans, undoubtedly Afghanistan and its people would face serious environmental challenges in the future.
This article was already published in Daily 8am, edition 1853, on March 19th, 2014.