04 Jul 2019 Story Chemicals & waste

Building a strong foundation for responsible waste management in Afghanistan

The effects from decades of war in Afghanistan have left the country facing severe environmental challenges, from deforestation to water management. Among these issues is the inability of the country to treat and dispose of municipal solid waste and sewage.

Across the country, the poor handling of waste and chemicals is made all the more problematic by a lack of information about the generation, processes and composition of waste and its management. This information void is represented in the only piece of legislation related to chemical management in Afghanistan, the Waste Management Policy, which addresses all the chemical management needs.

The Waste Management Policy was endorsed by the National Environmental Protection Agency, the overarching government authority for the protection of the environment, in 2010. The Waste Management Policy is now being revised by the National Environmental Protection Agency. The provision of a clean and healthy living environment through the improved management and control of waste to support a “healthy life for all Afghans” is the vision for the Waste Management Policy.

The National Environmental Protection Agency seeks to increase the capacity of government institutions which relate to biodiversity, agriculture, forestry, land, climate change, and so on. Because there is no strong legislation, except for the Environment Law, it is difficult to grasp the development of the chemicals and waste agenda, particularly when it relates to the production, management and imports of chemicals.

In fact, the 2003 UN Environment Programme’s Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment of Afghanistan states that the most serious issue in the country is the long-term environmental degradation caused, in part, by a complete collapse of local and national forms of governance. The project under the Chemicals and Waste Management Programme seeks to take part in rebuilding institutional capacity and restoring the country’s natural resources. Integrating the environment into the post-conflict reconstruction process must be set as a national priority for the health and well-being of the population.

At first glance, it can be reassuring to see that the reported real production of hazardous waste remains low. Indeed, estimates by the National Implementation Plan of Afghanistan on Persistent Organic Pollutants show a very low amount of hazardous waste generation in the country, but the emission of toxin from unregulated dumpsites is unknown.

In the meantime, economic development is leading to growing industries, construction and imports of chemicals from neighbouring countries, and so Afghanistan’s story can be perceived from another angle. The infant legislative system for the sound management of chemicals and waste in Afghanistan might not be ready for the pressure spurring from blooming industries. To minimize the growing emissions of harmful pollutants, the country will need access to green and clean technologies.

By integrating what happens before the disposal of solid waste, the government is willing to propel a life-cycle approach which the Chemicals and Waste Management Programme (also known as the Special Programme), the Basel Rotterdam Stockholm, the Minamata Convention and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management encourage.

One of the project’s objectives is to establish a Chemical unit in the National Environmental Protection Agency to focus on the implementation of the Basel Rotterdam Stockholm and Minamata conventions. Another key step in mitigating the challenges emerging in chemicals and waste will be to create a waste trade association which would ensure harmonious relationships between the private sector and government stakeholders. What will be encompassing all project’s activities will be the development of a secondary legislation and regulations under the environment law to enforce the implementation of environmental protection in a transparent and consistent manner.

Idrees Malyar, Deputy Director General for Policy and International Affairs states “We cannot neglect the health impact of pollution, particularly in the large cities. Immediate and long-term national action is key, thus the National Environmental Protection Agency is developing a new Waste Management Policy. Moreover, we are working on the establishment of a Chemical Unit, which will be further integrated into the organizational structure of the National Environmental Protection Agency in the upcoming years.”

It is clear that the current state of governance and legislation are the result of nearly forty years of conflict and instability. But the most important fact remains that for post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan to succeed, it ought to start by the creation of strong institutions able to cope with the challenges of the past and the present.

The establishment of a Chemicals Unit at the National Environmental Protection Agency will be a big step forward in drafting legislation and building institutional capacity to regulate toxic waste in Afghanistan. UN Environment supports, through the Country Office, the government of Afghanistan in its aim to achieve this objective by working closely with the National Environmental Protection Agency in implementing this project.