Afghanistan has taken an important step in protecting its wildlife and preserving the beauty of its natural environment. In celebration of Earth Day 2009, the Director General of Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency, Mostapha Zaher, declared Band-e-Amir as Afghanistan's first national park.
The official designation affords legal protection to the lakes and surrounding landscape and will ensure sustainable environmental management for this scenic area.
Band-e-Amir is a series of 6 lakes in central Bamyan Province, and the national park covers 59,000 hectares of land. The lakes present a stunning visual landscape, with their clear, azure-blue color set against red-rock cliffs and dry grasslands.
The lakes are held back by natural travertine dams, created by calcium deposits. Some of the dams are breathtaking 30-foot rock walls, stretching across the valley in long, graceful arcs. The combination of desert, water, and rock make for landscapes that rival those of national parks anywhere in the world.
Since 2006, the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, has been working with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and local communities surrounding Band-e-Amir to establish the national park.
To ensure the park's long-term sustainability, USAID, through its implementing partner the Wildlife Conservation Society, founded a local institution to manage the proposed park and helped to prepare a park management plan. USAID also advised the government on the development of the legal framework for establishing protected areas. This will help bring international recognition to the park.
By officially designating the area a national park, the government of Afghanistan will also encourage economic development in the 15 villages surrounding Band-e-Amir. Before the years of war and Taliban rule, Band-e-Amir was a popular tourist destination, and recently, tourism has begun to increase.
With help from USAID and its implementing partners, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Ecodit (an international environmental consulting company), and the Agha Khan network (a group of development agencies), local entrepreneurs are already building small shops, restaurants, and hotels – in accordance with the park's environmental management plan – to serve the growing number of tourists.
Afghanistan's national park is a good first step in preserving the country's priceless natural treasures for generations to come.