The Afghanistan Heritage and Extractive Industries Development Initiative: 2015-2016

A new and innovative two year programme is being implemented by UNESCO in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP), the Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC) and other cultural stakeholders within Afghanistan.

The programme, The Afghanistan Heritage and Extractive Industries Development Initiative, has been funded by the World Bank through the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and is specifically tasked with providing technical assistance to both the MoMP and the MoIC in relation to the presence of heritage sites in and around mining and other extractive industry sites. It also seeks to bring the concepts of professional heritage management, essential aspects of cultural heritage law and formal assessment into action within the existing framework of commercial development taking place in the country, in particular within the fast expanding extractive industries sector.

The cultural heritage of Afghanistan represents a unique cultural resource, with numerous iconic historic buildings and archaeological monuments dispersed throughout the provinces, including the internationally renowned World Heritage Properties in Bamiyan and Jam. There is also considerable evidence for the presence of an established historic mining industry throughout Afghanistan. However, with over 2500 registered cultural heritage sites and historical monuments in the country, and doubtless many more yet to be discovered or unreported, there is bound to be an unavoidable interaction between the cultural heritage resource and the needs of the quickly growing extractives industry throughout Afghanistan.

The initial phases of the project have sought to identify the character of the potential cultural resource present in six prioritized areas throughout the country that may be subject to exploration and exploitation activities by mining companies in the near future as part of the Afghan governments drive to further develop this area of the country’s economy. This inception phase will lead the way for targeted archaeological research, fieldwork and heritage site management planning throughout the country. Additional objectives of the longer term programme of cooperation between UNESCO, the MoIC and the MoMP are  not only to build technical capacity for the future, but to design and facilitate the mechanisms for pre-emptive surveys and heritage impact assessments, ensuring that any relevant findings are appropriately incorporated into the implementation plans of extractive projects briefs. It is also expected that the programme will seek to make further provision within both the cultural heritage and mining  laws for the protection of Afghan cultural heritage in connection with any form of development undertaken, be it commercial, industrial, residential or infra-structure related.

The programme represents an integrated and multi-faceted approach to assisting this developing area of interest between cultural heritage and economic development within Afghanistan and additional significant complementary projects are also in progress. These currently  include the production of a range of publications for a variety of professional and public audiences concerning the artefacts recovered from the Buddhist site of Mes Aynak, the convening of an international conference to examine in more detail the interaction and engagement between the cultural heritage and the extractive industries, and a review of the existing Afghanistan Law on the Protection of Historical and Cultural Properties (2004), with a view to making amendments to this document, essential for the future safeguarding of the country’s fragile heritage.

Ultimately the initiative represents a unique opportunity for ensuring the long term preservation and protection of the country’s fragile cultural resource, without inhibiting the region’s prospering economic independence and growth. The continuing partnership between UNESCO and its government partners, in conjunction with other heritage stakeholders, establishes an effective precedent for the implementation of complimentary strategic programming and research, and leads the way for successful future cooperation and coordination between the cultural and industrial sectors to the ultimate benefit of all.


UNESCO Kabul Office

January 2015

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