Can a trek in the mountains of Afghanistan contribute to building peace in the country? The World Food Programme and its sister agencies, brought together at a special event for International Peace Day, believe it can.
At the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon challenged the world to think how everyone can contribute to sustainable development and sustainable peace, ahead of the International Day of Peace on 21 September.
To Andrew Scanlon, Country Programme Manager of the UN Environment Programme in Afghanistan, the answer was simple. “The partnerships we forge through our projects in Afghanistan can be a real step in the peacebuilding process. People are brought together by a common interest in natural resources, livelihoods and development, especially in the mountain areas of Afghanistan.” For the fourth year in a row, Andrew and his team organised a Peace Day Trek in the mountains of central Afghanistan, where UNEP works with the national and provincial government, 18 local communities, NGOs and other UN agencies to improve management of the largest central watershed in the country, the Koh-e-Baba mountain range.
About 70 people gathered in the tiny village of Jawkar for the event. The cluster of mud houses clings to the mountainside at an altitude of about 3,000 metres. The peace trek followed the villagers’ traditional journey to an “ailaq”, a summer grazing ground for sheep and cattle. All of the 55 families in the village rely on agriculture and livestock for their income, so their wellbeing, food security and health are inextricably linked to the natural environment.
Watershed management is a complex activity and projects to support communities in protecting the natural resources in their area are vital. The World Food Programme (WFP) supports many of these projects by providing food rations for villagers involved in asset-creating activities such as tree-planting, terracing of slopes, or gathering of wild seeds to re-plant over-grazed mountainsides. WFP and UNEP partner with the Conservation Organisation of Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM) to make this happen. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is involved in developing hydropower and irrigation infrastructure for sustainable water management and increased agricultural productivity, plus work to reduce soil erosion and bring back biodiversity.
After the one-hour hike to the “ailaq”, the group shared a picnic lunch and listened to students singing songs for Peace Day. “Oh bird of peace,” sang girls from a local orphanage. “We are the victims of war. Please tell the warriors: please do not make any more children orphans”.