April 22, 2009
War-wearied Afghanis received uplifting news on Earth Day this year. Their government has announced the creation of the nation’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, protecting a one-of-a-kind landscape encompassing six sky-blue lakes separated by natural dams.
Announced by Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) at a ceremony in the FAO Building at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock in Kabul this morning, key funding for the park was provided by The United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In addition, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) provided support with wildlife surveys, identifying park boundaries, and working with local government and communities. WCS developed the management plan and laws for the park. The park’s creators hope the system set up for Band-e-Amir National Park will be extended to new parks in the future.
“At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Band-e-Amir will be Afghanistan’s first national park and sets the precedent for a future national park system.”
The park will be protecting one of Afghanistan’s most treasured natural areas. Six lakes resting high in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Central Afghanistan are separated by natural dams made from the rare mineral deposit travertine. Such systems are found in only a few place in the world, most of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, a future goal for Afghanistan’s first park. Pollution and human degradation of the fragile travertine dams currently threaten the park.
Unfortunately much of the park’s wildlife has already been lost. But surveys for the new park found ibex; urials, a wild sheep with massive horns; wolves; foxes; and the Afghan snow finch, the only endemic bird in the country. Snow leopards used to dwell in the region but vanished during the 1980s because of hunting.
While Band-e-Amir is not new to travelers it has been little visited since war engulfed the Afghanistan in 1979. After the nation gained some stability following the American-led invasion in 2001, thousands of Afghan tourists returned to Band-e-Amir. As well as natural beauty, the park has religious significance since it is believed the third caliph of Islam visited the region. With the new region’s status and publicity, the country hopes to attract international visitors.
Next on the list, Afghanistan is looking at creating a network of parks, including possible protection for the abundant wildlife in the Pamir Mountains.