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Thursday, April 7 • 2:10pm - 2:40pm
Environmental Analyses and Project Implementation in Conflict Zones – A Unique GIS/Military Solution from Afghanistan

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Military conflicts often occur against a backdrop of existing, and often worsening, environmental conditions. During Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, military leaders and Afghan partners saw opportunities to pursue environmental improvement projects to positively engage local communities as a means of securing cooperation and fostering long term stability and environmental sustainability. Given the importance of agriculture and the prevalence of erosion, water resources were a primary concern. In order to positively engage communities, local military units, using the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) and other funds attempted to address local leader requests for infrastructure improvements, with a military agenda for stability, building trust as a strategy for short term cooperation, and improving acceptance of central government. Eastern Afghanistan’s isolation has traditionally been attributed to poor roads, hostilities between rival groups, and banditry. Water availability and flood damage are high priorities among local populations, particularly during the peak years of this work due to drought and an historic flood in 2010. The central Afghan government, when it was functioning anywhere, never enjoyed a positive perception in most quarters in this region that has always been dominated by tribal communities and as a result, many federal efforts were insufficient to counteract a pervasive environmental degradation. Hence our local military units attempted to fill this gap. Environmental assessment (EA) protocols and project designs normally call for extensive on-site visits, field surveys, frequent community engagement, and competent contractors, and a time line sufficient to conduct this process. All of these are often an impossibility in military operations and the inherent difficulties of safe travel in the region. Though embedded civilians were able to provide some perspective, many other areas remained inaccessible and repeat visits were often impossible. Also inherent are highly compressed timeframes, few opportunities for secure community engagement, and limited local capacity to implement projects. Accordingly, early efforts to engage communities through water provision and erosion protection projects produced mixed results and failures, which often could be attributed to inadequate environmental planning and project designs. Limited opportunities for interactions among OEF personnel and communities, short military unit deployments, and a lack of design expertise germane to the Afghan environment also contributed to failure and consequently an erosion of trust among Afghan communities. These conditions led to the development and implementation of a streamlined environmental assessment process using GIS, remote sensing, and highly-leveraged ground information in close coordination with military leaders. It resulted in rapid implementation of meaningful projects compatible with the highly constrained timeframes and limited community interactions necessitated by ongoing military combat operations. My objective here is to summarize this novel GIS application. I will demonstrate how the EA and Project Design process worked in Afghanistan from 2008 – 2012, making an efficient use of remote sensing, spatial analysis, GIS, and limited ground truth. It was closely coordinated with military units on the ground, and resulted in significant success at a low cost.


Jason Underwood

Jason Underwood has over 20 years experience with CACI - National Security Solutions as a GIS Analyst and has spent much of the last three years working as the GeoBase Analyst at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, providing services and consultation in GIS, Surveying, and Draftin... Read More →


Henry Shovic

Henry Shovic, PhD is a resource geographer. He has 37 years experience in many applications, including environmental planning, project design, landscape modeling, GIS, wildland fire, and soil survey. He has worked in three countries, including Afghanistan. He has worked for the U... Read More →

Thursday April 7, 2016 2:10pm - 2:40pm MDT
Canadian Room Heritage Inn