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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

BBC; Protecting Afghanistan’s environment and tourist futureBy Andrew NorthBBC News, Bamiyan

Bamiyan and its fledgling tourism industry is under threat

If the high mountain lakes of Band-e Amir were not in a country in its fourth decade of war they would be world famous.

Outsiders lucky enough to see them today are often lost for words when they first set eyes on the ethereal blue of their waters and the Martian-orange and red cliffs surrounding them.

The lakes, in Bamiyan province, are Afghanistan's first-ever national park, and draw thousands of local visitors every year. The government hopes foreign tourists will one day come too.

If that sounds quixotic now, so too may the UN and the government's launch here of the country's first-ever environmental protection plan - with a solar-powered kettle one of its signature initiatives.

But for those living in Bamiyan's isolated mountain valleys, the most immediate threat is not the Taliban but drought, partly induced by human activity.

Climate change is making things worse and the lakes could be at risk too.

Glaciers in the province's Koh-e Baba mountains, the western end of the Hindu Kush, recede further each year.

The climate adaptation programme, as it's known, "is not luxury, it's life", says Bamiyan Governor Habiba Sarabi after climbing up to Qazan, one of 18 mountain farming communities involved in the $6m (£3.75m) scheme.

The high mountain lakes of Band-e Amir draw thousands of local visitors every year'Disaster-prone'

Some 3,000m (9,800ft) above sea level, this is always going to be a tough place to live and farm.

But it's got tougher as trees and vegetation have been cut down for fuel - creating the beginnings of a high-altitude dust bowl.

In an Afghan version of the Grapes of Wrath, more families are being forced to leave every year.

Like shaved heads, most of the hillsides are bare, with just the occasional stubble of green.

It also means villages are more exposed to "flash-flooding in spring and summer and avalanches in winter", says Andrew Scanlon of the UN Environment Programme.

But he is now overseeing the planting of new trees and turf along Qazan's valley.

Against the repetitive clanging of hammer on metal, workers in Bamiyan city are building scores of cleaner, more-efficient stoves....Continue Reading.... 

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