The UN environment agency decided to give official protection to a rare Afghan marsh to save hundreds of species of migratory birds. The place formerly used to be a royal hunting ground, before war had struck the city of Kabul.
Ornithologists have noticed that the Kol-e-Hashmat Khan wetlands outside Kabul serve as a rest house for thousands of storks, egrets, pelicans and flamingos that head from southern India to north towards the Caucasus and Siberia, across the Hindu Kush massif.
But 40 years of war, conflict and neglect has started to threaten their natural habitat. The main problems are being caused by the growth in new homes, irrigation systems, rubbish and global warming which is pretty much affecting everything that is happening in the environment.
The UN recently decided to announce the wetlands as a conservation site for the migratory birds, along with the Afghan government who said on Sunday that they also want to preserve the wetlands for water supply in the capital.
“There are probably more than 300 or 400 species that pass through, though without an accurate count it is hard to be sure,” says Andrew Scanlon, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Afghanistan.
Scalon puts the blame on land grabbing, increasing population and unplanned waste disposal apart from war for changing the environment of the place. “Everyone is taking a piece to survive but all together this is a tragedy, it’s no one’s fault but everybody is guilty,” he says.
Currently the Afghan environmental protection agency is trying to recover about 50 hectares of wild land were taken over by people, militia and organisations for survival.
“Some politicians are reluctant” to act, but attitudes are changing, said Muhibullah Fazli, the agency’s biodiversity expert. “The problem is the people taking their cattle to graze or cutting the reed, local people also pour their garbage in the river, they don’t know the scientific value of this area,” he said.
But there is hope. According to organisation’s director Mohammad Shafaq, at first people didn’t accept the seriousness of pollution and falling water levels, but now they are able to convince them.
“I told them what the Holy Koran has said,” adds Fazli. “Birds are a community just like yours… they need a habitat and they need food.”