Five years on from their initial implementation, it's important to reflect on how the Sustainable Development Goals are taking shape in places of extreme poverty, and the challenges faced in their realisation. This month, we're taking a closer look at Sustainable Development Goal 15, examining how our projects strive to protect, restore and promote sustainable ecosystems to ensure flourishing life on land.

Here at Afghanaid, as we actively battle against the spread of COVID-19 in Afghanistan, we're not forgetting the threat the climate crisis also bears on these communities. Moreover, Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency said that, while ongoing conflict was of course killing people throughout the country, climate change would bring a far larger worldwide devastation that was already visible in Afghanistan. 

With that in mind, let's take a closer look at how we have sought to restore harmonious local ecosystems, whilst strengthening the resilience of the communities we work alongside.

What is SDG 15?

Deforestation, loss of natural habitats, and land degradation have all contributed to the severe damage hindering our planet's healthy ecosystems. Goal 15: Life on Land is constituted of 12 goals, which, from the grassroots to the international level, seek to promote the restoration and conservation of biodiversity to ensure the land and humanity can thrive harmoniously, and therefore sustainably.

How does SDG 15 apply to Afghanistan?

The overarching directive of all the Sustainable Development Goals, to 'leave no-one behind' is most crucially hinged upon the advancement of sustainable ecosystems.

At the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, it was observed that already vulnerable communities are most considerably and urgently impacted by global ecosystem damage. This is particularly pervasive for poor rural and forest-dwelling families, as ecosystem services are estimated to make up 50-90% of their livelihoods. 

In Afghanistan, it is estimated that around 51% of the population live in multidimensional poverty. Close to 80% of the population lives in rural areas, relying on agriculture for their food and income. Agricultural production has been increasingly challenged in recent years due to volatile weather and outdated farming techniques not suited to the changing climate, resulting in high levels of food insecurity affecting around 30% of the population.

If steps are not made to promote sustainability, restore biodiversity, and curb climate change, these communities will be left behind.

Afghanaid and SDG 15: Creating and Strengthening Livelihoods

Despite the size of the task at hand, we're working to create and strengthen livelihoods in Afghanistan whilst restoring and conserving local ecosystems. Our projects in rural communities work to:

Restore degraded land

  • Working in partnership with the HALO Trust, we helped over 3,000 men and women through restoring previously dangerous, mine-contaminated land to productive use.
  • In the wake of extreme weather or natural disasters, we support communities to renovate damaged land back to productivity, and revitalise their livelihoods.
  • We also support communities to increase vegetation cover and improve soil quality by planting orchards and fodder crops.

Promote natural resource management

  • In the past 3 years alone, we have established over 400 Natural Resource Management Committees. Through these democratically-elected committees, we deliver training, promoting techniques to conserve water, protect and renew forests and rangelands, reduce soil erosion and protect against landslides and flash floods. We ensure the sustainability of these initiatives by putting the power in the hands of the local people.

Improve water management 

  • By cleaning and repairing blocked and damaged irrigation systems, and training local farmers how to properly maintain, monitor and operate these canals, we restore their access to water for their animals and crops. This means they can produce greater yields, better feed their families and sell surpluses at the market.

Reduce the destruction of climate-induced disasters

  • We work with communities to reduce the catastrophic effects of natural disasters and extreme weather on their communities, teaching them the skills they need to identify and reduce risks where possible, and respond when disasters strike.
  • We work with communities to build terraces, check-dams, flood protection walls and flood-proof trenches to ensure the productivity of their land and protect it from extreme weather events.
  • To bolster their hardiness for these events, we help families diversify what they grow, helping them to plan ahead and reduce their food insecurity when disaster occurs.
  • Similarly, through teaching family members new skills, promoting local business, and initiating local savings groups, we help them to diversify their income, reducing their sole reliance on the land and therefore making their livelihoods less vulnerable.

For instance, in May 2020, flash floods hit the province of Samangan. Every year, flooding threatens to destroy the homes and land of many communities in the area, but through building land protection walls channels, we help divert floodwaters away from villages, protecting them from devastation when these kind of instances occur.

Through this multifaceted approach, we take on SDG 15 from multiple angles, being sure to treat biodiversity as a linchpin to wider sustainable development.

"The snow avalanches and water run-off used to destroy our crops on one side of our village, which meant that we were unable to feed our families or our animals. Afghanaid provided us with trees to plant along here to stop the flow of the snow and water, and reinvigorate the damaged soil. They also helped me to plant an apple tree orchard on my land, and taught me how to look after it properly. Now I have a flourishing orchard and my children love the apples!"

What are the challenges we face in achieving SDG 15 by 2030?

Despite the local successes of our restorative and conservation projects, biodiversity loss and ecosystem destruction continue to occur at unprecedented rates on a global scale. Although Coronavirus has instigated a worldwide standstill, and recent statistics indicate that daily global carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 17%, we are humbled by the reality that this is likely to be a temporary fact.

Even though Afghanistan is one of the worlds smallest contributors to climate change, it is one of the countries that is already most aggressively experiencing its devastating effects. Distressingly, on the Climate Change Preparedness Index, it ranks 173 out of 181 countries, emphasising the uphill battle Afghan people face when global ecosystems continue to be destroyed.

Here at Afghanaid, challenges as large as these only push us to work harder to protect the vulnerable communities we work with. We hope you will support us as we confront these challenges head on, and continue to make steps towards the realisation of SDG 15's targets in Afghanistan.

How can you help achieve SDG 15 in Afghanistan?

Now more than ever, we need your help spreading the word about how we can all help vulnerable people in Afghanistan.

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