Statement by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Round table 1: Forests for people
9th Session, United Nations Forum on Forests
I thank you for convening this meeting early in 2011, our International Year of Forests and I would also like to indicate Afghanistan’s desire for active participation in relevant forums and activities in conjunction with the International year.
The pictures of arid and barren landscapes of Afghanistan we see today make it difficult for us to imagine that the country once had much more extensive forests, with cedars, firs and pines in high-alpine areas and coniferous mountain forests, as well as pistachios and almonds in dry woodlands. As a result of the absence of forest management and poor agricultural practices amongst other contributing factors due to decades of conflict and instability, forests cover less than 3% of total land area in Afghanistan today. UN Environmental Protection experts predict that at the current rate of deforestation, Afghanistan’s forests will disappear within 30 years if collective action is not taken to reverse the destruction. As a consequence of thirty years of war, around 50-60% of pistachio forests were destroyed. The provinces of Paktya, Khost and Paktika once had 450,000 hectares of forest, nearly 70% of which has been destroyed. Most of the destruction in these Eastern provinces is due to illegal logging, even though this practice has been banned since 2006.
Healthy, functioning forests are the primary energy source in the form of fuelwood for rural communities, which make up 80% of our total population. Non-timber forest products, particularly fruits, supplement rural income. However, current rates of deforestation are threatening the existence of our remaining woodlands, and thereby indirectly threatening the livelihoods of our people.
The government of Afghanistan has taken steps to prevent further destruction of forests. An approach based on a national plan has been adopted by the government, including policies such as a Reintegration Program in 5 provinces of Afghanistan, the announcement of 9 national protection areas, rehabilitation of pistachio forests, community based natural resource management, the prevention of illegal logging and a new legislation for the management of forests. Among major challenges are security, lack of expertise, smuggling of timbers to neighboring countries and lack of donor interests to support forest related projects.
Afforestation projects represent valuable opportunities in reducing the level of poverty by generating employment, as well as providing products that will improve local economic conditions and diversify Afghanistan’s potential commodities for export. The key concerns of energy and food security in rural communities are also addressed in participatory afforestation programs. The return of forest and vegetation to our landscape is also crucial in our efforts to combat desertification. Vital ecosystem services provided by forests can also reduce the water stress Afghanistan faces, and sequester carbon in addressing the global problem of climate change.
Forests and sustainable forest management can contribute significantly to Afghanistan’s efforts in pursuing sustainable development, poverty eradication and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals. Together with our development partners, Afghanistan is ready to facilitate knowledge sharing and improve our human and institutional capacity for sustainable forest management.