Afghanistan establishes its first national park




One of Band-e-Amir's pristine lakes.

Credit: Alex Dehgan/WCS

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Afghanistan has established its first national park, Band-e-Amir, in celebration of last week's International Earth Day.

The official designation affords legal protection to the lakes and surrounding landscape of Band-e-Amir, a series of six lakes in the central Bamyan Province, and will ensure continued, sustainable environmental management for the area.

Since 2006, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and local communities surrounding Band-e-Amir to establish the national park, which covers 56,000 hectares of land.

The lakes of the park - clear, azure-blue in colour - are set against red-rock cliffs and dry grasslands. They are held back by natural travertine dams, created by calcium deposits. The combination of desert, water, and rock make for landscapes that rival those of national parks anywhere in the world, USAID said.

To ensure the park's long-term sustainability, USAID, through its implementing partner the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), founded a local institution to manage the proposed park and helped to prepare a park management plan.It also advised the government on the development of the legal framework for establishing protected areas.

The official declaration enhances Afghanistan's ability to manage its natural resources, and will help bring international recognition to the area, USAID said. It will also encourage economic development in the fifteen villages surrounding Band-e-Amir.

Before the years of war and Taliban rule, Band-e-Amir was a popular tourist destination. It is hoped the national park declaration will see tourist numbers increase; already local entrepreneurs are building small shops, restaurants, and hotels, in accordance with the park's environmental management plan, to serve the growing number of visitors, and a campground is also planned.

It is also envisaged that the initiative will be the start of further sustainable development in the country.

“At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan. Band-e-Amir... sets the precedent for a future national park system,” said Steven Sanderson, President and CEO of the WCS.