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Afghanistan

Water Resources Management in Afghanistan: The Issues and Options

The Way Forward

The problems of water resources management in Afghanistan are complex and a straightforward solution seems impossible. In order to increase agricultural production and sustainability of irrigated agriculture, the overall strategy should be to increase water capital and make better use of water. Government must take lead in putting in place the coordination mechanism and providing effective oversight. For quick recovery of water sector, increase in crop production and improvement in water use efficiency and environmental sustainability, following steps may be identified.

  • For the formulation of strategy for the rehabilitation of irrigation systems, a comprehensive database and information systems should be established. This is absolutely necessary for the accurate and up to date assessment and spatial locations of the rehabilitation work need to be undertaken.
  • Rehabilitation of irrigation systems should be given a priority. All systems within the basin or sub-basin should be systematically surveyed and assessed before priorities are selected. This is necessary to ensure that traditional water rights and allocations are preserved and upstream and downstream impacts and conflicts are minimized and mitigated. This process should be completed with the consultation and participation of local communities (i.e. mirabs and farmers).
  • Before 1980, there were about 18 well-equipped meteorological and hydrological stations working across Afghanistan. These stations were the main source of data for the planning and operation of water resources systems. All these stations have been completely destroyed during the years of war and conflict and presently no information is being collected for the analysis of present situation and future projections of the water resources. Special attention should be given to the re-installation of these stations to get systematic assessment of hydrological and irrigation systems.
  • Given the countrys variable climatic conditions and vulnerability to drought, water availability for agriculture is likely to be a subject of debate both for rainfed as well as for irrigated agriculture. Therefore the conservation efficient use of water must be the foundation for a fully productive agriculture sector. Farmers should be encouraged to use water harvesting and watershed management, including more water storage structures both small and large. Farmers should be introduced and trained in the use of modern water saving technologies and crop varieties, which has proven successful in other arid environments similar to Afghanistan.
  • Although Afghanistan has limited water resources, it does not make efficient use of what is available. Farmers are ignorant of actual crop water requirements and irrigation-scheduling practices are still largely based on the maximum amount of water a farmer can capture. Therefore present irrigation practices of farmers include a tendency to over-irrigate, whereas the opposite should be accomplished. To address this very important issue, research studies focusing on the revision of irrigation planning based on maximum water saving should be initiated.
  • Increasing demand for water has put enormous pressure on the groundwater resources. Consumption of groundwater is presently 3 BCM and it is projected that in next 10 years it will reach to 10 BCM due to increase in domestic and irrigation supply demands. Due to this excessive use coupled with the successive drought, groundwater tables in different parts of Afghanistan have declined to the extent that about 60-70 percent of traditional groundwater irrigation systems (i.e. Karezes) have dried up. This over-exploitation of the resource has caused devastating impacts on drinking water supplies for urban and rural population. For the preservation of this future resource, Government needs to develop appropriate policies to effectively manage and monitor groundwater development and use. Steps should be taken for the revision and enforcement of 1981 water laws. Communities should be directly involved in the campaign of artificially recharging the aquifers and in the conjunctive use and management of surface and groundwater resources.
  • Afghanistan has a history of drought of varying severity and will continue to experience it in the coming times. Traditional coping and mitigating strategies have been broken down under growing population pressures and the collapse of the rural economy. For poverty alleviation, farmers should be provided with the opportunities to generate off-farm incomes. Traditionally, the main sources of off-farm income have been hired labour, forest products and small-scale enterprises like carpet weaving, bee-keeping, skin processing and handicrafts.
  • Appropriate institutional arrangements should be made for proper coordination of different ministries and line agencies involved in the management of water resources. The roles and responsibilities of these organizations should be clearly defined to avoid overlapping and to ensure effective management of water resources at all levels.
  • An enormous amount of technical expertise has been lost in the water sector over the past 20 years. This loss of human capital should be replaced as quickly as possible if the sector has to recover its former status, reduce dependency on external expertise and enable citizens to develop their potential. Therefore a strategy should be developed to create training opportunities for farmers, quality sector managers and technical staff.




Source: Water Resources Management in Afghanistan: The Issues and Options by Asad Sarwar Qureshi, IWMI, Working Paper 49