Here in America, we love our National Parks. All told, almost 400 of them dot the country. But in the harsh terrain of the Hindu Kush mountain range in Afghanistan, National Parks are a foreign concept. Resources aren’t preserved for the benefit of tourists; they are necessary for survival. But that may soon change according to a report by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of National Public Radio.
The Afghan government has joined forces with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other foreign donors make their dreams of a 220-square-mile National Park, accessible from Kabul by a paved road, a reality.
Aside from the difficulties of creating a park in a war-torn region, the park effort seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Creating the park is a key element in launching the country’s fledgling conservation efforts (snow leopards, Persian leopards, gazelles, and ibex are just a few of the animals in the area the need protection). And tourism revenue is certainly something the Afghan government would like to bring into the country. But the resources that would be featured in the park (including several pristine lakes) are the centerpieces of several rural communities in the area. Herders water their animals at the lakes, the land is farmed for food, trees are cut for firewood, and so on. For good reason, the villagers in the area are nervous about the government regulating the land.
So, how do you balance the needs of the environmental conservation movement against the needs of the local people?
From the NPR report, it appears that the parties involved plan to handle the matter delicately. A committee, which includes representatives from the Afghan government, Western advisors, and Band-e-Amir elders and other village representatives, has been formed to make decisions about the proposed park. It’s unclear at the moment what will be done, but it is obvious that the notion of a National Park will have to be reevaluated.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
What works in the U.S. will not necessarily fit Afghanistan’s needs.
Read more about Afghanistan’s potential National Park: Check out the Full NPR story (which includes a great audio slideshow). And the Wildlife Conservation Society has an article about the issue: Mapping out a Trail toward Peace–and Parks–in Afghanistan.