Water Resources Management in Afghanistan: The Issues and Options

Communities and Rural Economy

he structure of rural society consists of numerous settlements (over 30,000 clusters into about 18,000 communities) many of which have very limited access to basic needs of life. Majority of the population in Afghanistan do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation. It is estimated that coverage of safe drinking water in the country amounts to 24% only while that for sanitation coverage amounts only to 11.8% (Water Sector Strategy, 2000). In urban areas like Kabul the daily average per capita water consumption amounts to about 30 liters while this number is almost half in rural areas. Shortage of water has exacerbated the mortality rates among millions of children, particularly through malnutrition. It is possible to attribute millions of deaths over the years through either directly or indirectly to lack of safe drinking water.

The economy of the country is based on agricultural products and livestock. The total cultivable area of Afghanistan is about 8 million hectare, which is 12 percent of the total area. There are roughly 3.9 million ha of cultivated land in Afghanistan, of which 1.3 million ha is rainfed and 2.6 million ha irrigated. This irrigated area produces almost 85% of all agricultural productions. Livestock is a main sector in the economy of the country.

Livestock is a main sector in the economy of the country. During 1997-98, the total population of livestock in the country was 3 million cattle and 23 million sheep and goat. Livestock and their products are main contributors to farm draught power, family nutrition, the raw material for household goods (wool, hair, hides, dung) and tradable products. A decade ago, the livestock sub-sector was accounting for 40 percent of the total export earnings but presently this number has reduced to half. This decrease can be attributed to loss of livestock, decreased production due to declining feed and overgrazing, animal diseases and shortage of water. The total grazing area or pastures in the country are about 54.7 million ha land (FAO, 2001). The total area under evergreen forests is 2.2 million ha. If the productivity levels can be restored to levels similar to the rest of the region, then Afghanistan should be able to resolve medium to long-term food security concerns.

It is generally accepted that families with less than 0.5 ha of irrigated land have great difficulty in earning their livings solely from agricultural production in most parts of the Afghanistan. Therefore off-farm income generation activities are an integral part for about 65 percent of farming families to achieve a modest living. Afghan farmers use centuries old farming techniques with oxen providing the draught power. The majority of women in Afghanistan work in agriculture. They constitute a large portion of the agricultural labor force; estimates indicate that they account for over 70 percent of the labor. Being an agricultural country, the future growth of Afghanistan depends on the development of agriculture and related industry.

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