Kabul University, the largest and oldest tertiary education institution in Afghanistan, inaugurated a new geographic information systems (GIS) and hydrology lab at its geosciences faculty premises on 11 March 2019. This is a significant step forward for the faculty, following the establishment of its first GIS lab by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2012. The lab is a welcome addition to the university’s infrastructure and will introduce more students and faculty members to the applications of spatial and temporal science in planning and development.
The inauguration of the new lab is also timely considering the roll-out of a number of trainings of trainers (TOTs) for the geosciences faculty by experts at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Under its SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) Initiative, ICIMOD is working with the university to build the faculty’s capacity in the use of Earth observation and geospatial information technology (EO/GIT) in agriculture, land cover/land use change, and water resources management studies.
In the past two years, SERVIR-HKH conducted four TOTs and extended several training opportunities to focal persons and staff members at Kabul University. These TOT alumni have been extending the training to other lecturers and students enrolled in the geosciences, environmental science, and agriculture faculties. The geosciences faculty comprises the geography, geology, and hydrometeorology departments and enrols up to 150 students in an academic year. The new lab, established with a financial grant from USAID-Afghanistan, has new computers and 25 academic licenses of the ArcGIS software.
Professor Hamidullah Farooqi, Chancellor of Kabul University, inaugurated the new lab. He urged all faculties, not just the geosciences faculty, to make use of the lab for the capacity development of staff and students. The Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, deans from different faculties, staff members from the geosciences faculty, and representatives from USAID-Afghanistan and ICIMOD attended the inauguration.
Sediqullah Resteen, lecturer at the geosciences faculty, welcomed the new infrastructure: “As there was only one lab and a limited number of computers, students often missed out on practical lab sessions for up to two weeks when trainings are concurrently scheduled.” He stressed that ample practical sessions are critical, especially ahead of examinations. With a new lab in place, lecturers will have more flexibility in scheduling trainings and allotting practical lab sessions without interrupting the regular lectures in an academic year.
Mahboobullah Iltaf, the Afghanistan Activity Manager at USAID-Afghanistan, shared that he was happy with the progress made: “Knowledge transferred to geoscience lecturers through SERVIR is being systematically transferred to students every year. This is a positive step towards sustainability, and USAID-Afghanistan is committed to providing financial assistance to such programmes.” Assadullah Rahmatzai, lecturer at the geosciences faculty, provided a short primer at the event on SERVIR’s collaborative activities with Kabul University and ongoing and future capacity-building efforts.
A joint development initiative of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and USAID, SERVIR works in partnership with leading regional organizations worldwide to help developing countries use information provided by Earth observation satellites and geospatial technologies on key thematic areas of food security and agriculture; water resources and hydro- climatic disasters; land cover/land use change and ecosystems; and weather and climate. SERVIR-HKH is implemented by ICIMOD under its Mountain Environment Regional Information System (MENRIS) Regional Programme. Prioritizing activities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan, SERVIR-HKH caters to the specific needs of regional member countries in addressing different aspects of environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change.