The Risks of Greening in the Red Zone: Creating Afghanistan’s First National Park in the Midst of Conflict

  • Peter D. SmallwoodEmail author


After two generations of peace, Afghanistan slid into conflict in 1978, turning much of the country into a dangerous red zone. In the midst of this conflict, Afghanistan established its first National Park, Band-e-Amir, to better preserve one of its natural wonders. While such an endeavor may seem frivolous, the environmental planning required to establish the park provided important opportunities for peacebuilding. It set a clear precedent for the involvement of local people in managing their own resources, and led to the central government recognizing and working with a local, democratic institution established to plan and manage Band-e-Amir. It empowered the local people, an ethnic group severely persecuted under previous regimes.

Afghanistan possesses a surprising array of habitats, from lowland deserts to mountain forests of conifer and mixed hardwoods, to alpine meadows. They support an equally impressive array of wildlife species, including such iconic species as the rare snow leopard and Marco Polo sheep. These habitats provide many other opportunities for greening in this red zone. However, working in active conflict zones is inherently risky, even for environmentalists, one of whom was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. While it is difficult to weigh the risks of such work against the benefits, especially when one has lost a friend and colleague, I argue that the work is worth the risks. In addition to the tangible results, such work also reinforces belief in the value of natural spaces. Tending those ideas may be the most valuable thing we can do.


Wildlife Conservation Peacebuilding Sustainable development Civil society 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of RichmondRichmondUSA

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