Afghanistan’s Environmental Education in the Light of Islam
Highlighting and explaining passages about environmental conservation from the Holy Qur’an, a helpful new handbook has been adopted by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Working with Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) and the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) produced an environmental education handbook entitled, “Environmental Education in the Light of Islam.”
The new handbook covers topics such as the relationship between humans and nature, wildlife protection, environmental protection, the importance of protected areas, natural resources, and pollution. Launched simultaneously, an associated ‘training of trainers’ education program for Afghanistan’s Islamic scholars, or Ulama, has also been created by WCS, supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Islamic Scholars Are Respected Community Leaders
A WCS statement explained, “In Afghanistan, Islamic scholars and teachers are respected community leaders and looked to for advice on a wide-range of religious, social and personal matters. Respect for nature and the environment are referred to extensively in both the Holy Qur’an and the ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace be upon him).”
With this new training, the Ulama of Afghanistan can include messages about environmental conservation into their weekly sermons and public lessons. In this way, local environmental problems are being solved by Muslim congregations. Already 207 mullahs have received designation as master trainers, and they are currently holding training sessions with community religious leaders in 10 out of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Afghanistan’s Traumatized Natural Resources
Afghanistan’s citizens and environment have endured three decades of war and turmoil. Living in rural areas and remote locations, over 80 percent of the nation’s population eke out their economic livelihoods from traumatized natural resources. Without the ability to feed and shelter themselves and their families, reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan have little chance of long-term success.
However, the wars and turmoil have destroyed government institutions all the way down to the community level. Afghanistan has been left with an entire generation of citizens with little to no technical capacity for sustainable resource management at any level of government. Programs improving economic benefits without degrading the country’s natural resource base are desperately needed in Afghanistan.
World Conservation Society Steps In
WCS, in partnership with USAID, has been working tirelessly to help rebuild both Afghanistan’s natural resource base, and her environmental protection infrastructure. Now in their fourth year, the USAID annual report for 2014 highlights heroic efforts currently ongoing in this beautiful country rich in wildlife diversity.
Wildlife ranger training has provided technical assistance and equipment for wildlife surveys. Afghan rangers, both men and women, have learned to use GPS, compass, binoculars, etc., and how to record information on the required datasheets. During wildlife surveys, brown bear, red foxes, ibex, and Marco Polo sheep were observed. Perhaps the more exciting wildlife sighted was the endangered snow leopard, the most iconic and elusive of Afghanistan’s inhabitants.
Preserving the Iconic and Endangered Snow Leopard
As part of a National Geographic Society documentary film, WCS was called on in 2012 to capture four snow leopards and fit them with satellite collars. Wildlife capture and tranquilization training was provided to Afghan veterinarians.
The snow leopards were then successfully captured, tranquilized and collared with a satellite tracking device. The process of collaring snow leopards is still continuing with two adult snow leopards, one female and another male collared in the first half of 2014 from the lower Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan.
The Afghan snow leopard team is now recording data transmitted from the satellite tracking collars for all of the tagged snow leopards. They also published an article in “Cat News Journal” about the first radio-telemetry study of snow leopards in Wakhan, Afghanistan.
Contributing to the Snow Leopard Global Forum
WCS has been focused on snow leopards in Afghanistan since 2010 to determine their habitat preference, employing camera trap capture-recapture monitoring as part of the Living Landscapes Approach.A Health Interface Team is analyzing photographs of snow leopards obtained from the cameras, identifying individuals according to their unique spot patterns. The cameras will continue running during this winter in order to capture wildlife video footage for further wildlife studies and promotional purposes.
Satellite collar data and population estimates obtained from the camera trap monitoring will help WCS and USAID develop Afghanistan’s first broad-scale snow leopard population estimate. Data was also compiled and reported on at the 2013 Snow Leopard Global Forum in Bishkek city, in the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.
Providing National-Level Veterinary Training
While internationally visible programs like the Snow Leopard program bring much-needed attention to Afghanistan’s environmental needs, national level programs are also ongoing. Veterinary training is also being provided by WCS in collaboration with the Afghanistan Veterinarian Association (AVA), the Veterinary Institute in Kabul, the Veterinary School at the University of Kabul, and the Kabul Zoo. Topics of training include the principles of ecosystem health, wildlife diseases, wildlife toxicology and wildlife tranquilization.
More than 1,500 copies of Wildlife Diseases in Afghanistan were provided to government and NGO’s involved with wildlife-livestock disease and veterinary. Two vaccination campaigns against foot and mouth disease were carried out on more than 5,000 cattle and yaks under WCS supervision, and more than 2,000 yaks were identified with metal ear-tags and their information was included in a new database.
Providing Local-level Children’s Education
At the community level, newly established schools are being supported with an Environmental Education Program (EEP). Teacher training workshops are being provided for all teachers and head masters, who then implement the training in their schools. The handbook, “Environmental Education in the Light of Islam,” and an education kit including a notebook, pen and pencils is provided to the students, both boys and girls.
While girls’ education in Afghanistan has been portrayed in the media as negligible, USAID notes in their annual report that, “The high number of girls in schools in Wakhan is a deep source of pride to the local community. WCS believes that by promoting the EEP program in Wakhan, positive change can be achieved in this rural society with regard to the expectations and role women can play in modern society.”
Generating Nationwide Environmental Enthusiasm
Wildlife Day celebrations, in collaboration with community associations and district education departments, are also being held at local schools. In combination with nation-wide efforts, attention to the importance of environmental protection and conservation is growing from the grass-roots level to the highest offices of Afghanistan’s government.
With the help of WCS, NEPA organized and launched a highly celebrated Environment Day at two different venues in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. One of the venues was the Civil Service Institute, and the other was held at Amani High School. Nationwide, the activities and events are generating an exciting level of environmental enthusiasm.
According to a WCS report, “Large banners were designed and printed as well as 500 invitation cards sent out. Over 900 people including President Hamid Karzai, The Director General of NEPA, the Speaker of Lower House of Parliament, the Mayor of Kabul, The Head of Ulama, representatives from international organizations and civil society community, and national/international mass media participated in these events.”
The WCS report adds, “Over 1000 posters were distributed” at the two events, further dispersing much-needed environmental protection information throughout communities.
Afghanistan’s Steady Return to Stability
As the Nato-led combat operation “Enduring Freedom” closed with the end of 2014, Afghanistan entered a new year and a new era of self-sufficiency. Government institutions are growing and placing greater emphasis on sustainable development. Education systems are getting back on their tracks, and local communities are responding positively to the steady return of stability.
As a Muslim, it is heartwarming to me personally that Islamic education has assisted in the process of helping the Muslims of Afghanistan restore their country’s natural environment. Like the elusive snow leopard, it will take time for the endangered species called “peace” to re-establish. But, insha’Allah (God Willing), peace and the snow leopard will both make a great comeback in Afghanistan.
(Image note and source: Snow leopard sleeping peacefully. Pixabay)
(Top image note and source: New environmental conservation practices in Afghanistan. USAID/WCS)
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