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UNEP helped to establish Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA)

Kabul, Afghanistan, 13 January 2015 - Mr. Pekka Haavisto, Finland's former Minister for International Development and current parliamentarian, visited Afghanistan to review progress in the country's environmental sector over the last ten years.

"Now, after ten years, it is incredibly rewarding to return to this remarkable country and visit the NEPA offices in Kabul and Bamyan, as well as the protected areas in Band-e-Amir national park," said Mr. Haavisto.

In 2003, UNEP helped to establish Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), now the country's leading environmental policymaking and regulatory institution. Formally recognized under national legislation in 2007, today NEPA employs over 850 staff and is active in all 34 provinces across Afghanistan.

UNEP - working in close collaboration with NEPA - also tackles a diverse range of environmental challenges. From supporting climate change adaptation and pollution control to strengthening environmental laws and policies, UNEP's US $12.5M programme aims to help lay the groundwork for sustainable development in Afghanistan.

"I am very grateful for the close cooperation we have had with UNEP over the past 13 years," said His Excellency Mostapha Zaher Director-General, NEPA. "This partnership has been foundational to the growth and development of NEPA and I look forward to collaborating with UNEP on preparations for the international climate change conference to be held in Paris this year."

As part of his visit, Mr. Haavisto also met with the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, to discuss bilateral issues with Finland as well as new opportunities in the environment sector. Notably, President Ashraf Ghani emphasized the importance of investing in sustainable water management and forest protection. Afghanistan has the lowest water storage capacity per capita in the Central Asian region - losing nearly two-thirds of the water it obtains from rainfall, snow and glacial melts.

UNEP and partners have been working in the mountainous central highlands of Afghanistan, considered to be one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, to increase water storage at community level and enable local communities to better withstand a changing climate by promoting sustainable water usage practices.

During field visits to Bamyan province, Mr. Haavisto viewed the construction of new storage ponds, and saw the implementation of community-led, ecosystem-based approaches to disaster risk reduction. These community-based pilot demonstrations are helping show the diverse ways that communities build resilience to environmental shocks caused by climate change and natural disasters. Results from the pilot projects are expected help inform the development of national environmental policies.

Supported by the Global Environmental Facility, the UK Department for International Development and the Government of Estonia, UNEP, in partnership with the Government of Afghanistan aims to advance sustainable environmental management of Afghanistan.

Background

From 2002-2005, Mr. Haavisto headed the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Afghanistan task force, which conducted the first post-conflict environment asssessment of the country. This trip marks his first return to Afghanistan since the completion of the assessment and inception of UNEP's programme in 2003.

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