Friday, September 19, 2014

H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar Elected President of General Assembly’s

Sixty-Sixth Session; 20 Vice-Presidents, Main Committee Chairs Also Named

Mr. Al-Nasser Vows to Focus on Bridging Differences, Building Consensus;

Secretary-General Says President-elect Has Always Valued Assembly’s ‘Special Role’

H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Permanent Representative of the State of Qatar to the United Nations, addresses the General Assembly following his election as the President of the Assembly's sixty-sixth session.

The General Assembly this afternoon elected Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations, as President of its sixty-sixth session.

Elected in separate meetings were the Chairs and other Bureau members of the Assembly’s six Main Committees, in addition to 20 Vice-Presidents of the Assembly plenary.

Following his election by acclamation, the incoming President said that during the sixty-sixth session, the world would face enormous political, social, economic and environmental challenges. Not a month had passed without news of a natural or manmade disaster and the subsequent food, security, health and education crises. Further, people still were living under occupation, while other crucial questions of human rights, sustainable development and poverty eradication, among many others, persisted.

He said he had proposed a high-level debate be held at the opening of the sixty-sixth session under the theme of “the role of mediation in the settlement of disputes by peaceful means”, which he believed would deepen cooperation on an issue that was at the heart of the United Nations work. That issue affected the United Nations existence. Indeed, the integrity, legitimacy, survival and effectiveness of the Organization depended on Member States.

He went on to say that respect for diversity and pluralism — regardless of religion, race or ethnicity — was a principle on which the United Nations was founded, and he pledged to undertake his role as President in a spirit of constructive cooperation and mutual respect. The road to success must be founded on partnership, as well as a deep sense of justice and responsibility.

Wide view of the General Assembly Hall, as Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Permanent Representative of the State of Qatar to the United Nations, addresses delegates following his election as the President of the Assembly's sixty-sixth session.

“I will not limit my presidency to presiding over meetings or reading statements,” he declared. Rather, he would focus on strengthening the Assembly’s role and its cooperation with the various United Nations organs and specialized agencies, as well as other international and regional organizations. He aspired to act as a bridge among developed, developing and least developed countries, and would focus on building consensus, especially on such issues as armed conflict, the rights of peoples to self-determination, hunger, poverty, terrorism and climate change.

“I will not hesitate to help you overcome your differences over these issues,” he asserted. “I will also expect you to shoulder your responsibilities as Member States to address these challenges with responsibility and professionalism.”

Congratulating Mr. Al-Nasser, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Ambassador already had ably served as President of the Security Council, Chairman of the Fourth Committee and Chairman of the Group of 77 developing countries and China. He also had personally led the way on an issue of great concern to him and his wife: the world’s response to autism. Qatar itself had become an increasingly important actor in the international arena, notably in facilitating the Darfur peace talks, and he was grateful for that wide-ranging support.

“In more than 12 years at the United Nations, you have always appreciated the special role of the General Assembly,” Mr. Ban said. Long before he had become Secretary-General, he had had close contacts with the Assembly, and he knew from personal experience what the 192-member body could accomplish. “I understand your office needs support to get the job done”, he said, emphasizing that he would work to keep the partnership with the Secretariat strong.

Also congratulating the President-elect, Joseph Deiss (Switzerland), President of the sixty-fifth session, said that Mr. Al-Nasser, in 12 years of service, had won the respect and esteem of his colleagues. His history at the United Nations was known through a long practice of multilateral diplomacy. The renewal yesterday of the Secretary-General’s second mandate offered a sign of the close cooperation between the Secretariat and Members States for a United Nations that was strong and credible on the international stage.

Indeed, several important reforms were under way, he said, and it would be the President-elect’s responsibility to continue that work. In those efforts, Mr. Al-Nasser could count on his Cabinet to ensure an efficient transition, especially with regard to the Assembly’s revitalization. He offered Mr. Al‑Nasser a manual, prepared with the support of the Swiss Mission to the United Nations, as a contribution to institutional memory, explaining that, as Presidents were elected annually, it was important to ensure that the knowledge was passed on. The manual tried to respond to all questions about the Assembly’s procedure and functioning.

“I wish you every success in the passionate undertaking of President of the General Assembly,” he said.

Also taking the floor to congratulate the President-elect on behalf of their respective regional groups were the representatives of Senegal (African States), Kuwait (Asian States), Republic of Moldova (Eastern European States), Bolivia (Latin American and Caribbean States), Israel (Western European and Other States), and the United States (on behalf of the host country).

Also this afternoon,the Secretary-General drew lots, in accordance with tradition, to determine which Member State would occupy the first seat in the General Assembly Hall during the next session. Turkmenistan was picked to occupy that seat and would be followed in English alphabetical order by all other countries, with the same order observed in the Main Committees.

Election of Committee Officers

In separate meetings the six Main Committees of the General Assembly elected Chairs and other officers.

Jarmo Viinanen ( Finland) was elected Chair of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), with Mohammad Al-Mutairi ( Kuwait) as Vice-Chair and Archil Gheghechkori (Georgia) as Rapporteur.

Abulkalam Abdul Momen ( Bangladesh) was elected Chair of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), with Philippe Donckel ( Luxembourg), Raymond Harold Landveld ( Suriname) and Denis Zdorov ( Belarus) as Vice-Chairs.

Hussein Haniff ( Malaysia) was elected as Chair of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), with Donnette Critchlow ( Guyana), Carolina Popovici ( Republic of Moldova) and Luca Zelioli ( Italy) as Vice-Chairs.

Simona-Mirela Miculescu ( Romania) was elected Chair of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), with Jim Kelly ( Ireland) and María-Waleska Vivas-Mendoza ( Venezuela) elected as Vice-Chairs.

Michel Tommo Monthe ( Cameroon) was elected Chair of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), with Paul Ballantyne ( New Zealand), Mariam Saif Abdulla Al-Shamisi ( United Arab Emirates) and Jelena Plakalović ( Serbia) elected as Vice-Chairs

Hernán Salinas Burgos ( Chile) was elected Chair of the Sixth Committee (Legal), with Mattanee Kaewpanya ( Thailand), Petr Válek ( Czech Republic) and Ceta Noland ( Netherlands) as Vice-Chairs, and Jacqueline K. Moseti ( Kenya) as Rapporteur.

Election of Vice-Presidents

The Vice-Presidents for the sixty-sixth session will be: Benin, Chad, Liberia, Malawi and Morocco from the African States; Fiji, Iran, Kuwait and Republic of Korea from the Asian States; Hungary from the Eastern European States; Bolivia, Haiti and Uruguay from the Latin American and Caribbean States; and Australia and Austria from the Western European and Other States. The five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States) also serve as Vice-Presidents.

The President informed delegates that the election of an additional Vice-President from among the African States would take place at a later date.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

Full Video of the Event

Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser (Qatar) – General Assembly Stakeout
22 June 2011

General Assembly Appoints Secretary-General Ban Ki–moon to Second Term of Office;

Ban: ‘Together, No Challenge Is Too Large — Together, Nothing Is Impossible’

Five-Year Term Runs From 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2016;

Assembly President Joseph Deiss Praises Ban’s ‘Loyalty, Discretion and Conscience’

Acting on the recommendation of the Security Council, the General Assembly this afternoon unanimously appointed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a second five-year term beginning 1 January 2012.

In a draft resolution adopted by acclamation, the Assembly also expressed its appreciation for Mr. Ban’s effective and dedicated service during his first term.

After taking the oath of office — the current term ends on 31 December 2011 — Mr. Ban said the Assembly had given him a great honour that was “beyond expression”.

“By acting decisively to renew my mandate, you have given the gift of time — time to carry on the important work that, together, we have begun,” he said, adding that in the coming months, he would solicit Member States’ views and ideas in order to present a broader long-term vision at the Assembly session in September. “Together, no challenge is too large. Together, nothing is “impossible,” he promised.

He listed the United Nations many accomplishments since he first took office in January 2007, namely its role in putting climate change squarely on the global agenda; making progress in nuclear disarmament; advancing global health, sustainable development and education; saving lives amid devastating natural disasters; promoting democracy, justice and human rights; creating a new dimension for the responsibility to protect; and setting up UN Women to empower women worldwide.

He pledged to work as a “harmonizer and bridge-builder” among all stakeholders to uphold the United Nations Charter and lead the Organization, whose role mattered in a different and deeper way than ever before. “To lead, we must deliver results. Mere statistics will not do,” he said, stressing that the United Nations had far to go, for which decisive, concerted action was needed. “In economic hard times, we must stretch resources — do better with less. We must improve our ability to ‘Deliver as One’.”

In addition, the United Nations must “do more to connect the dots among the world’s challenges, so that solutions to one global problem become solutions for all,” he said. A clear timeframe lay ahead: the target date for the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, next year’s Rio+20 Conference and the high-level meeting on nuclear safety in September.

General Assembly President Joseph Deiss lauded Mr. Ban’s remarkable leadership of the Organization thus far and his success in strengthening its role and visibility through reform measures, exciting and innovative initiatives, and his constant call for respect for human rights, the rule of law and other Charter-based values. “Loyalty, discretion and conscience,” which the Secretary-General had sworn to exercise when he first took office, had been more than just words. “For the past five years, on a daily basis, they have truly guided you in your work,” Mr. Deiss said.

He praised Mr. Ban for creating the Department of Field Support, the Office for Disarmament Affairs and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), in order to achieve greater efficiency. In addition, he listed Mr. Ban’s role in implementing the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health and promoting the safe use of civil nuclear energy.

He also gave Mr. Ban high marks for being extremely transparent about his activities and travel abroad, and for strongly collaborating with the General Assembly. Such ties were important, as they fostered dialogue between the Secretariat and Member States and contributed to the revitalization of the Assembly, within the Organization and on the international stage. “The task is not easy, as you know, but I assure you of the full support of the General Assembly and its Member States,” he said.

Nelson Messone (Gabon), President of the Security Council, who introduced the draft resolution, also made congratulatory remarks.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea also made a statement.

Also speaking today were representatives of Senegal (on behalf of the African States), Kuwait (on behalf of the Asian States), Republic of Moldova (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Bolivia (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States), Israel (on behalf of the Western European and other States) and the United States (on behalf of the host country).


The General Assembly met this afternoon to take action on a draft resolution on the appointment of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (document A/65/L.80.

Action on Draft Resolution

NELSON MESSONE (Gabon), President of the Security Council, introduced that draft resolution. He congratulated Mr. Ban and lauded his exemplary service to the Organization since taking office in 2007. The Assembly then adopted the text by acclamation.


Following that action, JOSEPH DEISS, President of the General Assembly, thanked the Secretary-General for his remarkable leadership of the Organization thus far. “Your reappointment today is a sign of the esteem that all those States have for you and of their confidence in you,” he said.

He said “loyalty, discretion and conscience”, which the Secretary-General had sworn to exercise when he first took office, had been more than just words. “For the past five years, on a daily basis, they have truly guided you in your work,” he said.

Mr. Deiss said that since the Secretary-General assumed office he had strengthened the United Nations role and the visibility by adopting reform measures; launching exciting, innovative initiatives; and calling faithfully and constantly for respect for human rights, the rule of law and the other values rooted in the Charter. His tireless commitment to serving the international community was evident in many areas.

In security and peacekeeping, the Secretary-General had set up the Department of Field Support to focus on more effective management with a view to greater impact on the ground, Mr. Deiss said. In disarmament and reduction of the world’s nuclear arsenal, he had created the Office for Disarmament Affairs and launched an initiative to convene a meeting on disarmament in the margins of the Assembly session last summer — moves which gave new impetus to that key issue.

To advance women’s empowerment and rights, the Secretary-General had combined the mandates of various programmes into the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in order to achieve greater efficiency, he said. During the Assembly’s dialogue on development last week, Member States had measured progress in implementing the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. He listed Mr. Ban’s commitment to combating climate change, fostering sustainable development and promoting the safe use of civil nuclear energy.

The past few months had been particularly tumultuous for the international community, he said. “You have said that the “Arab Spring” was a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It is essential to show our solidarity with people who aspire to greater freedom, democracy and well-being,” Mr. Deiss said. Recent events had shown that the world needed the United Nations and that the Organization needed a Secretary-General with the qualities of leadership and determination. The world needed a solid, credible Organization with a Secretariat and intergovernmental bodies that were mutually reinforcing.

Mr. Deiss lauded the excellent collaboration between his Office and that of the Secretary-General, saying the Secretary-General had “always been extremely transparent” concerning his activities and travels abroad. For example, on 28 March, upon his return from North Africa, the Secretary-General had immediately come before the Assembly to report on recent developments in the region. Such ties were important; they fostered dialogue between the Secretariat and Member States and contributed to the revitalization of the Assembly, within the Organization and on the international stage. “The task is not easy, as you know, but I assure you of the full support of the General Assembly and its Member States,” he said.

ABDOU SALAM DIALLO (Senegal), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, expressed congratulations and said that a feeling of widespread satisfaction was at the core of massive support for Mr. Ban’s second term. The African Group was pleased to continue dynamic, effective cooperation with the Secretary-General to carry out the ideals of the Charter. He praised Mr. Ban’s “professionalism, dedication and firm determination to raise high the torch of the United Nations”, which had led to internal management reforms, and he welcomed the “vigorous and effective” way in which the Secretary-General had faced pressing global problems. Under his leadership, the Organization had been able to refocus efforts on the Millennium Development Goals, global peace and security, climate change, democracy, human rights and women’s empowerment. Mr. Diallo hoped that the Secretary-General’s second term would be an opportunity to strengthen his action in favour of Africa.

MANSOUR AYYAD ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), speaking on behalf of the Group of Asian States, said he appreciated the great sacrifices of Mr. Ban’s family to stand behind him to serve the international community. Support by the regional groups and the Security Council for Mr. Ban was a testament to the global community’s recognition of his efforts during the past four and a half years to enhance the Organization’s legitimacy. Mr. Ban had many accomplishments and initiatives. There were many complicated global issues that needed a collective solution, including climate change, the Millennium Development Goals, disease, social justice and peace and security worldwide. The world faced difficult circumstances. The road to solve them was not easy. The global community must have the political will to achieve its objectives. Mr. Ban’s great experience ensured it that all efforts possible would continue to coordinate international action to face those challenges. He hoped that the Secretary-General would continue his reform efforts.

ALEXANDRU CUJBA (Republic of Moldova), speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, said the Secretary-General had, during his first term, demonstrated deep commitment to multilateral diplomacy as the central approach to promoting international peace and security, enhancing international cooperation and finding solutions to global problems. “The Organization’s strengthening and consolidating leaders is the essence of our General Assembly [where] we join our efforts and determination towards fulfilment of far-reaching and ambitious global goals,” he said, adding that his delegation had been particularly pleased by the Secretary-General’s assertion that “the agenda of the Member States is the agenda”.

He went on to say that the Secretary-General had demonstrated that moving the Organization forward was possible, and the Eastern European States stood by the Secretary-General’s efforts to build a stronger, more effective world body that would invigorate the entire United Nations system. The Group also applauded the Secretary-General’s dedication to, among others, broad achievement of the Millennium Development Goals; his engagement in the effort to tackle the effects of climate change; promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law; and building momentum on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The Group expressed its confidence in full cooperation with the Secretary-General during the next five years and pledged to support his priorities.

PABLO SOLÓN (Bolivia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said his delegation welcomed the Secretary-General’s reappointment. It favoured the enhancement of the Organization’s power and influence, and in that regard, underscored the roles of the Secretary-General in implementing the purposes of the Charter. The Group appreciated his dedication and hard work in the face of many challenges and expressed its readiness to continue working with him to achieve the Organization’s noble goals and objectives.

RON PROSOR (Israel), speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, said the unanimous support for the Secretary-General’s reappointment expressed by his delegation reflected the widespread recognition of Mr. Ban’s exceptional leadership abilities. Always striving to serve as a bridge-builder, the Secretary-General had displayed a tireless commitment to his duties over the past five years. He had also sought to advance the causes of peace, security, stability and human rights. With great dedication, the Secretary-General had led the international community’s efforts in many conflict zones and its response to tragic natural disasters all over the world.

In the face of a major economic crisis, the Secretary-General had provided essential leadership and had worked to ensure that those most affected by the downturn were not forgotten, he continued. To advance prosperity, Mr. Ban had helped to facilitate renewed commitments to the Millennium Development Goals. In an age of fiscal austerity, he had emphasized the pressing need for a more innovative and effective United Nations. The coming years were sure to bring with them great challenges, and the Group was confident that with Secretary-General Ban at the helm, the United Nations would continue to offer essential leadership for the international community.

SUSAN RICE (United States), speaking on behalf of the host country, said today was an important day in the life of the United Nations. No one understood the burdens of the role of the Secretary-General better than Mr. Ban. The United States was grateful that Mr. Ban was willing to continue to take them on. In the past four years, the Secretary-General had navigated turbulent waters with a steady hand. Everyone had benefited from his selfless career of public service and experience. “He’s a leader who listens to the voices of the voiceless,” she said, lauding his work to give shelter to internally displaced persons, vaccinate children against disease and save innocent lives. Under his leadership, the United Nations had moved to face the challenges of the next century. He had been a “champion of peace and security, an advocate of development and a voice for universal human rights”, she said.

Ms. Rice lauded the Secretary-General for speaking out with compassion for Haiti, democracy in Côte d’Ivoire and the responsibility to protect in Libya. He had encouraged the international community to promote truly sustainable development to expand the circle of prosperity and he had insisted in recognizing that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights were simply human rights. He had made important changes such as hiring more women for senior posts, proposing the deepest reduction for the United Nations budget in decades, and merging four disparate bodies into UN Women. She looked forward to working with him in the next term to move swiftly to reduce bureaucracy, continue management reform and create a culture of economy and excellence. She renewed the United States pledge of friendship and support to Mr. Ban as he took up one of the “toughest jobs on earth”.

KIM-SUNG HWAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea, said he shared the great joy of the Republic of Korea for the Secretary-General’s reappointment, and he looked forward to another fruitful five years. Mr. Ban was widely respected in Korea for his knowledge and strong work ethic. His status as a legend came from his many distinct attributes, including his ability to make the most essential decisions in the most difficult moments. His achievements as Secretary-General in the past four and a half years were grounded in those attributes and his humanity, which he had shown in places such as Haiti, Gaza, Chile and Pakistan. Recently, in North Africa and the Middle East, he had taken decisive steps to lead the world with wisdom and courage. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, his tireless passion had played a pivotal role in safeguarding democracy and protecting civilian lives.

With his commitment, the critical issue of climate change had been elevated to the forefront of the international agenda, he said. He was confident that with full support from Member States, the Secretary-General would show the way forward to achieve the goals of peace and prosperity for humankind. The Republic of Korea would stand behind him firmly to create a stronger world. In addition to doubling official development assistance (ODA) by 2015, the Republic of Korea was implementing domestic policies in line with global partnerships for development. It would host a high-level forum in November to discuss aid effectiveness. Currently, there were 600 Korean soldiers in nine peacekeeping missions, including in Lebanon and Haiti.

Statement by Secretary-General

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General, took the oath of office. He then said that the Assembly, with its decision, had done him a very great honour that was “beyond expression”. “I am humbled by your trust, and enlarged by our sense of common purpose,” he said. He and the United Nations had begun working together, four and a half years ago, with a call for a “new multilateralism” — a new spirit of collective action.

The Organization had seen, in its daily work, how all the world’s people looked more and more to the United Nations, he said. In era of integration and interconnection, no country could solve all challenges on its own; all should be part of the solution. The United Nations role was to lead; it mattered in a different and deeper way than ever before. “To lead, we must deliver results. Mere statistics will not do. We need results that people can see and touch, results that change lives — make a difference,” he said.

Working together, with goodwill and mutual trust, the United Nations had laid a firm foundation for the future, placing climate change squarely on the global agenda, making progress in nuclear disarmament and advancing global health, sustainable development and education, he said. The world was on track to eliminate deaths from malaria. With a final push, it could eradicate polio.

It had shielded the poor and vulnerable against the greatest economic upheaval in generations, he said. Amid devastating natural disasters, the world was there, saving lives — in Haiti, Pakistan, Myanmar. As never before, the United Nations was on the front lines protecting people and helping build the peace — in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia; in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.

The United Nations had stood firm for democracy, justice and human rights — in Côte d’Ivoire, North Africa and beyond, he said. It had carved out a new dimension for the Responsibility to Protect. It had created UN Women to empower women everywhere. But it still had far to go. “As we look to the future, we recognize the imperative for decisive and concerted action. In economic hard times, we must stretch resources — do better with less. We must improve our ability to ‘Deliver as One’,” he said.

Continuing, he said: “We must do more to connect the dots among the world’s challenges, so that solutions to one global problem become solutions for all — on women’s and children’s health, green growth, more equitable social and economic development”. A clear time frame lay ahead: the target date for the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, next year’s Rio+20 Conference and the high-level meeting on nuclear safety in September. The ultimate power in that was partnership.

“By acting decisively to renew my mandate, you have given the gift of time — time to carry on the important work that, together, we have begun,” he said, and added that in coming months, he would reach out to Member States for their views and ideas in order to present a broader long-term vision at the Assembly session in September.

“As Secretary-General, I will work as a harmonizer and bridge-builder — among Member States, within the United Nations system and between the United Nations and a rich diversity of international partners,” he said. “Out of the competition of ideas, let us find unity in action.” He pledged his full commitment to uphold the fundamental principles of the Charter. “Together, no challenge is too large. Together, nothing is impossible,” he said.

Full Video of the Event

Afghanistan’s Last Locavores


Arlington, Va.

MANY urban Americans idealize “green living” and “slow food.” But few realize that one of the most promising models for sustainable living is not to be found on organic farms in the United States, but in Afghanistan. A majority of its 30 million citizens still grow and process most of the food they consume. They are the ultimate locavores.

During the 12 months I spent as a State Department political adviser in northern Afghanistan, I was dismayed to see that instead of building on Afghanistan’s traditional, labor-intensive agricultural and construction practices, the United States is using many of its aid dollars to transform this fragile agrarian society into a consumer-oriented, mechanized, fossil-fuel-based economy.

In 2004, the Department of Energy carried out a study of Afghanistan. It revealed abundant renewable energy resources that could be used to build small-scale wind- and solar-powered systems to generate electricity and solar thermal devices for cooking and heating water.

Rather than focus on those resources, the United States government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build large diesel generators and exploit the country’s oil, gas and coal reserves. The drilling of new oil wells may provide unskilled, poorly paid jobs for some locals, but the bulk of the profits will likely flow overseas or into the pockets of a few warlords and government officials.

American taxpayers’ dollars are also being used for energy-inefficient construction projects. During my year in Afghanistan, I sat for hours in meetings with local officials in remote mountain and desert locations, sweating or freezing — depending upon the season — inside concrete and cinder-block schools and police stations built with American aid. These projects are required to adhere to international building codes, which do not permit the construction of traditional earthen structures.

These structures are typically built with cob — a mixture of mud, sand, clay and chopped straw molded to form durable, elegant, super-insulated, earthquake-resistant structures. With their thick walls, small windows and natural ventilation, traditional Afghan homes may not comply with international building codes, but they are cooler in summer and warmer in winter than cinder-block buildings. They also last a long time. Some of Afghanistan’s oldest structures, including sections of the defensive wall that once surrounded the 2,000-year-old Silk Road city of Balkh, are made of cob and rammed earth. In England, people are still living in cob houses built before Shakespeare was born.

Renewable energy and sustainability aren’t just development issues. They are security issues, too. Seventy percent of the Defense Department’s energy budget in Afghanistan is spent on transporting diesel fuel in armored convoys. In a welcome attempt to reduce this dangerous and expensive dependence on fossil fuel, the Marine Corps recently established two patrol bases in Afghanistan operating entirely on renewable energy.

Unfortunately, it is too little, too late. Had a renewable energy program been initiated a decade ago, when the United States entered Afghanistan to help overthrow the Taliban, Washington could have saved billions of dollars in fuel costs and, more important, hundreds of lives lost in transporting and guarding diesel fuel convoys.

Along with advocating the construction of a pipeline to carry natural gas from Central Asia, across Afghanistan and into Pakistan, the United States is also helping to fund a 20th-century-style power grid that will compel Afghanistan to purchase the bulk of its electricity from neighboring former Soviet republics for decades to come. Even if this grid survives future sabotage and political unrest in Central Asia, its power lines and transmission towers will be carrying this imported electricity right over the heads of rural Afghans and into Afghanistan’s major cities — despite the fact that the United States Central Command has identified the lack of access to electricity in rural areas as a major obstacle to sustaining the gains achieved by our counterinsurgency strategy.

Sustainable development in Afghanistan has taken a back seat to “quick wins” that can be reported to Congress as indicators of success: tractors that farmers can’t repair and that require diesel fuel they can’t afford; cheaply built schools; and smooth but wafer-thin asphalt, which will never stand up to Afghanistan’s punishing climate without costly annual maintenance.

If donor nations dismiss Afghans’ centuries of experience in sustainability and continue to support the exploitation of fossil fuels over renewable energy, future generations of rural Afghans will be forced to watch in frustrated silence as the construction of pipelines, oil rigs and enormous power grids further degrades their fragile and beautiful land while doing little to improve their lives.

And long after American forces have departed, it will be these rural farmers, not Afghanistan’s small urban population, who will decide whether to support or reject future insurgencies.

Patricia McArdle, a retired foreign service officer and Navy veteran, is the author of the novel “Farishta.” She serves on the board of directors of Solar Cookers International.

Source: The New York Times