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GISCorps volunteer in Kabul, Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Environmental Data Centre (AEDC), a co-operative venture between UNEP and the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), funded by UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the government of Estonia, requested the assistance of a seasoned GIS volunteer to advise and support national and international team in Kabul and Bamyan to set up the AEDC and start work on the key priorities list identified in year one. Following the recruitment, Sara Hodges, a GIS professional from Brooklyn, New York, was selected. Sara arrived in Kabul on September 6th and stayed there for a month. The following is the report that she wrote upon her return.

By: Sara Hodges

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been in Afghanistan since 2002, taking “an active role in laying the foundations for sustainable development in Afghanistan.” Their current projects fit into two broad categories: environmental interventions and capacity-building.  The environmental interventions are at a village scale, to improve resiliency to environmental hazards.  The capacity-building projects are at a national scale, to provide technical assistance to improve the Afghanistan Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental management and decision making in Afghanistan.  I went to Afghanistan for one month to advise UNEP on the creation of a GIS and Spatial Analysis Department.  This included assessing the GIS and Spatial Analysis commitments for all UNEP Afghanistan projects and designing system architecture and processes to fulfill them.

UNEP Kabul colleagues, from left: Alec Kneurr, Sara Hodges, Sakhi Hassany, Waheed Hannan, and Andrew Scanlon

My main project was to create a 5-year plan for the Afghanistan Environmental Data Centre (AEDC), a joint project between UN Environment Programme and the Afghanistan Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA).  The AEDC will be a center for environmental data, learning, logistics and support for NEPA, UNEP and other collaborating agencies and institutions to increase their capabilities for spatial analysis and modeling.   The AEDC will be comprised of 4 main parts: a reference library, an environmental geodatabase, environmental modeling and GIS training center, and GIS labs.

Most of my time was spent in Kabul doing a needs assessment of NEPA and UNEP’s GIS data and analysis requirements and meeting with other potential collaborators and agencies in Kabul to create a coalition for the AEDC (also learning many, many acronyms).

Climate Change Workshop with UNEP and NEPA

University of Kabul Department of Geography visit with NEPA, from left: Dr. Wahid Ahmad, Dr. Noori Seems, Sara Hodges, Dr. Mohammad Zarif Taniwal, Abdul Mateen Salek (NEPA), and Dr. Mohammad Eisa Sediqi

I traveled from Kabul to Bamyan Province to meet with NEPA and UN field staff, potential university and NGO collaborators, and to visit a UNEP village site to understand the needs for UNEP’s village-scale projects.

Bamyan NEPA office

Qazan, Bamyan Province – UNEP project site

In between the long work-days, I did find the time for some sightseeing and meals with some of the many, many interesting people I met.  I was under the UN Duty of Care, which meant that I could visit only approved establishments and travelled everywhere in an armored car.  While in Kabul, most of my sight-seeing was from inside the car to and from meetings and dinners.  Bamyan is one of the safest areas in Afghanistan, so I was able to walk around the town center and see some of the cultural sites.  We visited the site of the Buddhas, still an amazing place even after the Taliban destroyed them, and hiked to the top of Shahr-e Gholgola.  After a few weeks of no walking or bike riding, hiking around in Bamyan felt like a great relief.

Buddha cliffs, Bamyan City

After my helicopter (!) ride through the mountains back to Kabul from Bamyan province, the report writing began in earnest.

View from the helicopter

There was a huge amount to be accomplished in one month.  The last few days in Kabul, as well as the first few weeks back home in New York were spent writing the AEDC Business Plan and UNEP Geospatial Plan.  I learned an incredible amount in this short month in Afghanistan and accomplished a lot for UNEP and NEPA. 

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