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Water Resources Management in Afghanistan: The Issues and Options

Groundwater Resources

Afghanistan possesses huge reserves of groundwater. According to FAO estimates of 1996, the annual potential of the groundwater in the country is about 20 BCM. At present, only 3 BCM is being used and it is projected that in the next 10 years it can increase to 8 BCM due to increase in irrigation and domestic water supplies requirements.

More than 15% of Afghanistans irrigated land gets water from traditional underground systems such as karezes (Qanats), springs and shallow wells (locally called as Arhads). Karezes are underground systems, which tap groundwater by gravity from the aquifer to provide water for irrigating crops and domestic purposes. Ten top provinces of Afghanistan having highest percentage of area irrigated with groundwater irrigation are given in Table.

Ten provinces with the highest percentage of irrigated area with groundwater

Name of the Province Area under GW irrigation (ha) Percentage of total area (%)
Uruzgan 73 910 58,4
Ghazni 43 170 36,7
Farah 36 890 29,3
Helmand 27 280 16,8
Zabul 24 870 39,8
Kandahar 21 870 18,5
Kabul 18 270 32,5
Ghor 16 940 23,3
Nangarhar 13 820 32,6
Badghis 13 050 39,2

Source: FAO, 2001

According to an estimate, all traditional groundwater irrigation systems have reduced or dried up completely. About 60-70% of the karezes are not in use and 85% shallow wells are dried out. The population dependent on these systems has suffered badly due to failure or reduction in discharges of these systems. The main reason for the low discharges is low precipitation and consequently low recharge to the groundwater. In addition, boring of deep wells in the vicinity of karezes and shallow wells had adversely affected the production of these traditional irrigation systems. This has threatened the sustainability of these systems in the future too.

In most of the urban areas, shallow wells are used to get water for drinking and other household activities. As the water levels continue to fall, around 0.5 to 3 meter each month depending on the place, the poorer families are unable to dig their wells deeper and thus are forced to get water from communal wells. Many of these wells are already dried up and people (often women and children) are forced to walk miles to meet their daily water demands.

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