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In the experience of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), the challenge of improving environmental conditions lies not in an inherent conflict between humans and the natural world, but in the penury of natural resources that often forces people to consume the few environmental assets available to them. These conditions often create a downward spiral that results in deeper poverty, depleted soils, deforested hills, polluted water and disease.


News Archives

AKDN and Lions Clubs Collaborate to Plant 10 Million Trees by 2014; Additional 15 Million to Be Planted
09 December 2013 - On 9 December, Serena Hotels staff, experts from the Aga Khan Foundation, volunteers from the Lions Clubs of Kenya and local people came together to plant 11,000 trees as part of a civil society initiative that is contributing to the Government of Kenya’s goal of 10 percent forest cover by 2030.

Nairobi City Park to Be Rehabilitated by Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Government of Kenya
16 April 2012 - A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed yesterday between the Government of Kenya, the Ministry of State for National Heritage and Culture, the City Council of Nairobi and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to collaborate in the rehabilitation and restoration of the Nairobi City Park to international standards in terms of architecture, landscape and horticulture.

AKPBS Nominated for 2012 Zayed Energy Prize
12 January 2012 - The Aga Khan Planning and Building Services’ (AKPBS) Building and Construction Improvement Programme (BACIP) is one the finalists of the 2012 Zayed Future Energy Prize. The prize recognizes and rewards outstanding work in renewable energy and sustainability.

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The reasons for this cycle are complex and, in many instances, require complex, multidisciplinary solutions.  AKDN environmental activities are therefore integrated into broad area development projects that may have many components, including health, education, cultural revitalisation and economic development.

Within the broader development goals, the management of natural resources is a central objective.  These resources are then leveraged in a sustainable way to raise incomes and improve the overall quality of life.  Often, these projects become springboards for improvement in other areas.

Also see:

Click on the image to view the animated PDF brochure on Environment and Development

The Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment

The Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment is a centre for environmental activities, formed by the merger of the Bellerive Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF).

Currently, the Fund's resources are fully deployed in the implementation of selected projects. It therefore is not accepting unsolicited proposals. Further information can be found on the Prospective Grantees page.

The Fund’s activities include natural resource management and security against natural risks such as landslides, rural development in fragile natural environments and related programmers in the fields of health, housing and the built environment, education and the strengthening of civil society. The Fund’s activities highlight the linkages between poverty and the penury of natural resources. It promotes the management and development of sustainable natural resources through education, area development and related research that addresses existing issues in the developing world. The intention is to assist populations that are most threatened by their natural surroundings, while working to protect fragile ecosystems that are vulnerable to the effects of poorly planned human activity. Another goal of the Fund will be to enhance natural environments that can be made more productive.

The Fund strives to maintain the values, philosophy and expertise of the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and the Bellerive Foundation, the international environmental NGO he founded in 1977 and chaired along with his wife, Princess Catherine.


Case Studies

The following examples illustrate some of the environment-related activities of the AKDN:
Fuel Saving Stoves and Healthier Houses
Water and Sanitation
Improving the Built Environment
Land Reclamation
Managing Risk in Disaster-Prone Areas
Gardens as Catalysts for Positive Change
Hydroelectricity for Remote Communities
Educating and Mobilising Local Communities 
A University Dedicated to Development in Mountain Environments
Environmentally Friendly Tourism Infrastructure
Water Conservation
Addressing Growing Problem of Saline Groundwater

Fuel Saving StovesThe Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment builds on the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khans pioneering work in fuel-efficient stoves, tree planting and community-based forest management and ownership.Fuel Saving Stoves and Healthier Houses
The Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment, which is a newly integrated part of the Aga Khan Foundation, builds on the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s pioneering work in fuel-efficient stoves, tree planting and community-based forest management and ownership.

Designed in Kenya, the stoves help reduce food waste and improve fuel efficiency while addressing health and hygiene problems such as the inhalation of smoke.

In addition to the three main models - for use in homes, small-scale enterprises and institutions such as schools - projects worked to improve the efficiency and safety of traditional three-stone fires through training and the development of appropriate technologies.  Variations of these stoves and training programmes have been made and adopted across Africa and further afield. 

Water and SanitationThe Water and Sanitation Extension programme (WASEP) was initiated in 1997 with the aim of providing integrated water supply infrastructure services to local communities and to help prevent water related diseases though improved hygiene and sanitation practices.Water and Sanitation
The Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP), which was initiated in 1997 by the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service in Pakistan, has gained considerable notice for its innovative approaches to what many health officials consider the single most important development issue faced today:  the creation of potable drinking water systems and sanitation systems that prevent disease.

WASEP offers technical advice and resources for building safe, potable drinking-water systems; improving access to sanitation; developing drainage facilities; and establishing an operational and sustainable village-based management structure. It also facilitates the adoption of healthier domestic, personal and environmental hygiene. A recent study published in the World Health Organization Bulletin confirmed that WASEP contributed to reducing diarrhoeal diseases in its programme area by at least 25 percent. For more information, please see the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services.

Improving the Built Environment
 In the Northern Areas of Pakistan, the consumption of natural resources, especially the loss of foliage and vegetation cover, has been proceeding at an alarming rate, causing land degradation and soil destabilization which, in turn, has led to diminished economic prospects and even the loss of life (due to mudslides and floods associated with deforestation). The main cause of this deforestation is use of wood in house construction and for fuel. An estimated 15 percent of all household income is spent on heating, cooking and house maintenance needs.

To find solutions to this problem, the Building and Construction Improvement programme (BACIP) was set up by His Highness the Aga Khan as a research and extension programme. It has introduced over 70 products and technologies in local communities. To date, over 15,000 energy efficient and living condition improvement products have been installed in various households.

When applied, such techniques and products can, on average:

For more information, please see the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services.

Land Reclamation
Land reclamation has been a central objective in arid and despoiled lands since the Aga Khan Rural Support Programmes began in the 1980s.  Land reclamation has been successfully undertaken in a variety of environments, ranging from the coastal plains of Gujarat - where saltwater ingress and drought have posed extraordinary challenges - to the high mountain zones of northern Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

These activities usually involve the construction or repair of irrigation systems and the creation of bunds, “recharge” wells and related conservation measures, including rainwater harvesting systems and drip and sprinkler irrigation systems.

Over 33,000 hectares of land have been reclaimed in the Gilgit region of the Pakistan’s Northern Areas alone.  Over 66,000 acres have been made productive in Gujarat. Similar programmes are operating in Afghanistan, India and Tajikistan.

Managing Risk in Disaster-Prone Areas
Many observers fear that climate change will increase the incidence of severe weather.  AKDN is already working to protect vulnerable communities from natural disasters through programmes ranging from disaster management training and preparation to the construction of avalanche barriers and cyclone-resistant roofs.

In Gujarat, India, new designs for earthquake- and cyclone-resistant roofs are part of an overall plan that prepares for post-earthquake, cyclone and fire situations.

Disaster management training is also designed to improve coordination with relief and rescue efforts of the government and humanitarian agencies so as to avoid the common mismanagement that often hampers relief operations following natural disasters. In coastal Andra Pradesh, which suffered from the 2004 tsunami wave, AKDN agencies offer training in disaster preparedness while helping fishermen restore their livelihoods.

In the northern areas of Pakistan, where remote communities are vulnerable to avalanches, preparing for natural disasters is an integral part of AKDN’s overall efforts to develop appropriate solutions to environment challenges.  These efforts include earthquake-resistant buildings, solar energy use, thermal efficiency, and village planning.

Gardens of CairoThe 74-acre (30 hectare) Azhar Park, which had been a rubble and refuse dump for over 500 years, has become a "green lung" for Cairo and a catalyst for positive change in the poor neighborhoods adjacent to it. Gardens as Catalysts for Positive Change 
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture has integrated garden construction or restoration into broader development programmes in locales as different as Afghanistan, Egypt, Mali and Zanzibar. The Bagh-e-Babur in Kabul, Afghanistan, which was destroyed during the years of conflict, was on such project.  It is already serving as a major open space where Afghans come to picnic, socialize and reflect on their culture and history.

In Cairo, a park is at the center of a broad development programme for one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. In a city where the amount of green space per resident is roughly the size of a footprint, Al-Azhar Park is a much-needed green lung for Cairo's 17 million inhabitants.  It has also proved to be a catalyst for urban renewal in the poor districts adjacent to it. Find out more on Cultural Development in Egypt or view Podcast.

"Mini-hydels", which provide 20-100 kilowatts of power by diverting stream and river water through pipes, provide electricity in remote communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan that are off the national grid. Hydroelectricity for Remote Communities
In the quest for sustainable energy sources, remote communities in developing countries pose special challenges.  In mountainous regions of Central Asia and northern Pakistan, in particular, many villages are far removed from the electricity grid.  The solution, first pioneered by the Aga Khan Foundation in Pakistan, involves digging a narrow channel along a hillside to divert water into a pipe.  The pressure created by the water flowing through the pipe is enough to turn a turbine and produce 20 -100kw of power.  These micro-hydroelectric plants generate enough power to light a village or even several communities.

Unlike dams, which may cause adverse effects on ecological systems, these mini-hydroelectric plants merely divert, rather than dam, the water.  Over 180 micro-hydel units, supplying electricity to 50 percent of the population of Chitral, Pakistan, have been built. The projects are implemented, maintained and managed by the communities themselves. Several dozen other such plants are in operation in Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

In 2004, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in Pakistan won an Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in recognition of "outstanding and innovative renewable energy projects".

Reforestation and Sustainable EnergyAgencies have planted over 50 million trees in Asia and Africa as part of integrated reforestation and land reclamation projects.Reforestation and Sustainable Energy
Reforestation efforts centre on building environmental assets that may not have existed before, or redressing deforestation caused by man-made or natural disasters. For example, in the Gorno-Badakshan region of Tajikistan, which suffered extreme hardship following the withdrawal of Soviet diesel fuel subsidies in the early 1990s, people resorted to burning wood, including fruit trees, to survive the winter.  By some estimates, 70 percent of the forest cover in the province was consumed.

Reforestation efforts have helped restore some of the forests, but a long-term solution awaits the completion of another AKDN project, the Pamir 1 hydroelectric plant. The ambitious and innovative US$ 26 million investment by the Tajik government, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and other international agencies  is expanding the capacity of a partially constructed Soviet-era hydroelectric power plant..  Generation and distribution infrastructures for Khorog and the surrounding region are also being rehabilitated. The plant will boost the region’s dangerously inadequate electricity supply, improve health conditions, reduce environmental degradation, and contribute toward the region’s economic recovery.

The practice of establishing new forests  is a central feature of several AKDN programmes. Rather than remedying problems created by deforestation, new forests work to build environmental assets that can be managed for the common good of a village or town.  Over 26 million trees and plants, including fruit trees and poplars destined for house construction and fuel, have been planted in the Northern Areas of Pakistan by AKRSP programmes.  Similar AKDN programmes have planted millions of trees and plants in Asia and Africa.

Educating and Mobilising Local Communities 
In conjunction with physical conservation  efforts, the AKDN assists communities in generating awareness of environmental degradation while creating mechanisms for the protection of local environments.  These efforts take many forms, from the integration of environmental concerns into education to formal public awareness campaigns that may feature publications, videos or travelling theatre groups that perform plays on an environmental theme.

In several locations, AKDN agencies have helped create Town Management Societies, which are local NGOs that work to maintain the natural environment as part of overall efforts to develop their communities in a sustainable way.  It has also supported small enterprises that employ environmentally sound business practices, such as cooperatives that make woolen rugs and hand-knotted vegetable dye carpets.   For these efforts, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture was awarded a British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award for its efforts to preserve the integrity of the built heritage despite growing urbanization in the town of Karimabad, Pakistan.

A University dedicated to development in mountain environmentsIn Central Asia, environmental conditions in the high mountains contribute significantly to stress migration to cities. However, the mountains also present opportunities - through hydropower, mineral wealth, tourism, for example. It is the mandate of the University of Central Asia, which will be located on three campuses - in Khorog, Tajikistan; Tekeli, Kazakhstan; and Naryn, Kyrgyz republic (pictured here) - to help people of the region seize these opportunities.A University Dedicated to Development in Mountain Environments
Poverty is not usually associated with mountain environments, but in many developing countries mountain communities are faced with isolation, limited natural resources, harsh climates and extreme poverty.  Many mountain people flee to the major cities, even though the urban centers are less and less capable of absorbing them.

However, the mountains also present opportunities. They provide most of the world's fresh water and much of its mineral wealth; they possess vast if latent hydropower; and have potential in areas as diverse as agriculture and tourism.

It is the mandates of the University of Central Asia to help the people of the region seize these opportunities.  UCA will achieve this goal by fostering economic and social development in the broad mountain regions of Central Asia and elsewhere, while at the same time helping peoples to preserve and promote their cultural heritages.

The University, which is under construction, is located on three campuses, in Khorog, Tajikistan; Tekeli, Kazakhstan; and Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic. Eventually, it is expected to serve 50 million people across the mountain zones of Central Asia, including Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Environmentally Friendly Tourism InfrastructureAKDN encourages the development of specific forms of tourism that highlight environmental and cultural assets while providing local people with alternatives to the degradation of these assets.Environmentally Friendly Tourism Infrastructure
In the East Africa region, hotels owned by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) are renowned for providing environmentally friendly tourism facilities.  AKFED’s approach, which dates back over 30 years, draws on several defining attributes:  recognition of the surrounding environment as an asset; a long-term investment that assures a sustained interest in preserving the environment; and a commitment to reducing the ecological footprint of a tourism property.

In Tanzania, for example, prior to the creation of new facilities in the country’s national parks, four environmental impact studies were carried out. The studies prompted changes in design and new modes of operation to enable more efficient use of water.  In several cases, construction was altered to spare trees. Indigenous plants are preserved and propagated on all sites. Special equipment incinerates waste to reduce garbage and provide a source of energy for the hotel.

These and other measures have earned the Serena hotels numerous awards. All Serena properties are members of the Green Globe organisation, which is sponsored by the World Travel and Tourism Council. One of these, the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, was also awarded a Green Globe commendation and other awards for reforestation efforts in Amboseli National Park.

Water Conservation
In Syria, as in India, a growing problem of water scarcity - a consequence of limited water resources, over-use and poor management - is having an impact on water for both drinking and agricultural use.

In its Water Management Project, the Aga Khan Foundation’s objective is to promote better communal and individual management of water resources, as well as to develop more efficient methods of agricultural production. Current activities include improvement of irrigation systems, especially through drip and sprinkler systems, and the introduction of new crops and agricultural techniques.

The Programme is also working to raise awareness regarding scarcity while conducting research on water resources in the region.  Other efforts focus on increasing incomes by improving the efficiency of water use, introducing new crops and developing off-farm employment opportunities in agro-based industries, animal production and horticulture.

Addressing Growing Problem of Saline GroundwaterAddressing Growing Problem of Saline Groundwater 
The problem of dwindling fresh water resources is already daunting in many places, but in the coastal areas of Gujarat, India, it is especially acute.

As far as 10 kilometres inland, salt water has encroached on freshwater resources, contaminating them forever.  In some areas, salt water is advancing 500 metres per year. The repercussions of water salinity are many:  inability to grow traditional crops, such as mangoes and coriander, and the stunting of other crops, such as coconuts; the reduction of milk production from cows and goats and the long-term inability to support livestock; the need for women to travel as far as 12 kilometres to fetch water; the expense of drilling new wells because of the depletion of aquifers; and subsequent tension over the sharing of the resource.  Ironically, the soil remains some of the most fertile in India, yet more and more of it is being abandoned because of salinity.

To address these problems, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme is introducing drip and sprinkler irrigation methods that are 50 percent more efficient.  It is also constructing simple rain-water harvesting mechanisms to channel monsoon rains from roofs into covered cisterns.  It is building or rehabilitating check dams to capture rainwater so as to rebuild aquifers, identifying new water resources and constructing shallow “recharge” wells and “percolation” tanks in special geological formations that are resistant to salt water encroachment.  It has also introduced crops such as chiccko, betel and castor that can grow in saline water environments.  It assists village organisations to set up group management of water resources.  It also alerts villagers, through street theatre and publications, to the dangers of salinity and the need to work together to conserve this dwindling resource.