Earth Day reaches far, particularly when Americans are around. Indeed, on April 22, Afghanistan declared its first national park, Band-e-Amir, spanning six mountain-fed lakes in the country’s central highlands. The designation of the park is provisional, pending Parliamentary approval. (Those following the situation in Afghanistan may recall that Parliament, and the President, approved a controversial “family law” for the Shiite community that could legalize marital rape and restrict women from leaving home, studying or working without the permission of their husbands. After a national and global outcry, the law is under review). The national park designation should stick, given Afghanistan’s government is keen to attract tourists to view the country’s remaining natural wonders. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society both contributed to the park’s development. A French hotel company is keen to build a lodge on the shores of one of the park’s lakes.
Afghanistan is home to more than 100 mammal species’snow leopards, ibex, bears, wolves, foxes, hyenas and jackals. But many were highly endangered well before the U.S.-led 2001 war in Afghanistan that ousted the ruling Taliban. (Some might remember Marjan, the aging one-eyed lion who once lived in the Kabul Zoo. He’d lost his teeth, sight and sense of smell to a hand grenade tossed by an angry Taliban solider.) Habitats have strained under the pressure of intensive land use by poor, subsistence farmers with no other options. Soil erosion is widespread, and sub-optimal irrigation practices have caused considerable damage to landscapes; the persistent warring (Russian invasion, Northern Alliance shelling, Taliban resistance, fierce fighting between al-Queda and multinational forces and today, a resurgent Taliban), has put additional pressure on species‘and diverted attention and resources away from any mitigation measures. Forest fires lit by massive U.S. bombing in 2001 raged throughout the Tora Bora cave complex in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan where al-Qaeda fighters made their last stand. Surely the new Afghan national park is a positive development; peace and reconciliation in the country would be, too, for all of nature, human and wild.