Washington, D.C. - Filmmakers Alice and Lincoln Day interviewed the United Nations Environment Programme’s David Jensen (see Participants), the Policy and Planning Coordinator at the Post-Conflict Branch. Jensen’s work for the UNEP has taken him to Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, Sudan, and Liberia to assess damage to the environment caused by armed conflict.
In 2002, Jensen produced and directed the documentary, “The Other Side of Afghanistan,” which follows the UNEP’s efforts to rehabilitate the Afghan environment after three decades of war (archival footage from Jensen’s documentary will be featured in “Scarred Lands, Wounded Lives.”) During his interview with the Days, Jensen spoke about the legacies of deforestation and unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan.
The deforestation we see in Afghanistan is a product of three forces. First of all you have the Mujahideen that were using the forests for tree cover… The Soviets destroyed some of the forest to prevent that. Second of all, you have the Afghans themselves harvested the forests and stockpiled the wood because they feared that they would be taken away during the collectivization process. And third you had landmines that were put into agricultural areas. By putting the landmines into agricultural areas it forced people to find other areas to grow food, and the most obvious were the forests and woodlands of the country. So those three factors have led to virtual 100% deforestation in some areas.
- David Jensen
During the Soviet-Afghan War, northern Afghans lost much of their economy with the disappearance of pistachio forests, forcing them to adopt less sustainable types of agriculture. As Jensen notes, sheep grazing in former pistachio woodlands now consume most seedlings, preventing reforestation. Grazing also causes extreme soil erosion, which further hampers reforestation and destabilizes Afghan society.
If [Afghans] don’t have wood to burn to cook with, to heat their homes with, if they don’t have water to drink, they leave. And you see massive displacement happening, we call it “environmental refugees,” if you will. But people are leaving their homes, moving into urban areas, this creates a demand on resources, it creates a demand on infrastructure, and ultimately displacement undermines the peace process.
- David Jensen
To watch video of David Jensen, please visit our Participants page.