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Cablegate: Afghanistan - Usepa Science Fellows Advising, Coaching Goa

VZCZCXRO1912
RR RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #2001/01 1721305
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211305Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8739
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002001

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/FOR, SCA/RA, AND SCA/A
DEPT FOR S/TAS and OES/STC
DEPT PASS USTR FOR GERBER
USDOC FOR DEES, CHOPPIN, AND FONOVICH
CENTCOM FOR CG CFC-A
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USEPA/INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
OSD FOR SHIVERS

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: SENV TBIO PGOV AF
SUBJECT: AFGHANISTAN - USEPA SCIENCE FELLOWS ADVISING, COACHING GOA
ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES


SUMMARY
-------

1. Two Embassy Science Fellows detailed from the United States
Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) have been engaged with their
Afghan counterpart National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA)
since late 2006. The two-year-old Afghan agency is building itself
and its environmental management programs from the ground up while
trying to address a decades-old legacy of environmental neglect and
abuse. The Science Fellows have found themselves focusing mainly on
elevating the basic ability of the agency to manage itself and its
programs. Beyond that, the Science Fellows have assisted NEPA in
revising its new environmental law and regulations, establishing
protected areas, laying the groundwork for adopting international
treaties on wetlands and migratory species, establishing an online
regulatory information center, and building wetlands for wastewater
treatment. Their expertise has been effective and much appreciated,
given the near absence of local expertise in this field. END
SUMMARY.


BACKGROUND: BUILDING FROM THE GROUND UP
---------------------------------------

2. Like most of the GoA, NEPA is building its management, technical,
and administrative capabilities from the ground up. Prior to NEPA's
founding two years ago, environmental governance was almost unknown
in Afghanistan. Given that an environmental function has never
existed in Afghanistan's central government, a strong case existed
for capacity building and institutional development of the
environment function.

3. Originally a part of the Ministry of Water and Power, NEPA became
a stand-alone agency two years ago. Eight regional offices and one
central headquarters office in Kabul oversee environmental issues
throughout the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. Current staffing of
NEPA is nearly 400. In addition to creating NEPA, the GoA also
passed an environmental law by presidential decree in 2006 (amended
in March 2007). Since that time, NEPA has been drafting
implementing environmental regulations (with assistance from UNEP)
and developing enforcement capability.


NEED FOR BASIC ASSISTANCE
-------------------------

4. To determine immediate assistance needs of NEPA, the Embassy and
USEPA met with NEPA's leadership and the international organizations
and NGOs working on environmental issues in Afghanistan. From these
meetings, we learned that the GoA had not addressed environmental
issues for many years, if at all, and the people at NEPA have little
experience in managing an environmental regulatory organization.
The strong consensus was that most technical assistance in
environmental issues was aimed far above the technical backgrounds
of the staff and the organizational capacity of the agency. Our
Embassy Science Fellows quickly determined that strengthening the
organization should take precedence over the more specialized
technical assistance engagement that was originally envisioned. The
Science Fellows' assistance to NEPA has therefore focused on
developing management and planning skills, such as work planning,
budget development and long term agency strategy.


ASSISTANCE ON LAW, TREATIES, PROTECTED AREAS
--------------------------------------------

5. In addition to organizational and management assistance at NEPA,
the Embassy Science Fellow has also provided review and advice on
Afghanistan's amended environment law (to be reported by septel) and
the drafted environmental assessment regulations, which are making
their way through the review and approval process. NEPA is also
working to identify and pursue opportunities for Afghanistan in the
international environmental arena. With help from the Science
Fellow, the GoA is considering accession to two international

KABUL 00002001 002 OF 002


environmental treaties: the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the
Convention on Migratory Species (Bonn Convention). The
documentation for accession to these treaties has been prepared, and
the GoA is now deciding on accession.

6. The Embassy Science Fellow has also been working with NEPA to
protect areas of extraordinary environmental value. The lead effort
is to create Afghanistan's first national park/protected area around
the travertine lakes of Band-i-Amir, a site that we believe may
merit eventual designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This
has involved advising on a draft law on protected areas, consulting
with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Asia Development Bank, and
UNEP to work out how to administer the area and how to address
economic dislocation, and advising NEPA on how to work with other
GoA and local entities that have a political stake in the issue.
(NOTE: The UNESCO designation requires that the host country already
have the legal and administrative machinery in place for protecting
the site, as well as some level of funding to put that machinery in
motion. In view of the very limited capacity to actually protect
the area, we believe this designation is some ways off. END NOTE.)

ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER, WASTEWATER TREATMENT
------------------------------------------

7. Early this year, the Embassy Science Fellow began working with an
ongoing USAID online education project at Kabul University to create
a virtual environmental information reference center, the
Environmental Technical Assistance Center (ETAC) at the Kabul
University. ETAC will provide reference information for the use of
practitioners, including regulated polluting companies, to manage
their operations and materials in an environmentally responsible
manner.

8. Finally, the Embassy Science Fellow has provided expert input in
promoting innovative and environmentally friendly ways of addressing
environmental issues. For example, the Science Fellow has drafted a
proposal for a pilot project to construct wetlands for treating
wastewater. This low-tech, low-cost approach to wastewater
treatment has garnered interest from NGOs and IOs operating in
Afghanistan, and we hope to have an agreement to build a project.


COMMENT: FOCUS ON THE BASICS
----------------------------

9. Our Embassy Science Fellow colleagues have had a productive tour
here (with three months to go for the second Science Fellow). They
have brought a rare skill set to Afghanistan, which has very few
environmental professionals and virtually no institutional knowledge
of how to go about managing its environmental assets. This
expertise has been applied to good effect in several areas and is
much appreciated by the GoA, which understands its limits in this
field.

10. In addition, they have adapted their engagement here to fit the
rudimentary circumstances that prevail in the Afghan government.
Whereas both the Embassy and NEPA had envisioned a purely technical
assistance mission, in practice this has changed into something more
of a coaching session in how to manage the organization and get its
members to produce something. To be sure, the Science Fellows have
delivered technical assistance, but without paying attention to the
organization and its shortcomings, the technical part of the
assistance would have gone for naught.

WOOD

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