Afghanistan Faces Drought Crisis as Kabul Residents Worry About Declining Groundwater
By: Fahim Amin
As spring approaches, the residents of Kabul have observed a decrease in underground water levels and report that the majority of the semi–deep water wells in their homes have dried up. Families who are struggling to obtain enough water have begun purchasing it from portable water tankers, and those who live in expensive districts and cannot afford it are waiting in front of mosques or city water pipes. In several parts of the capital, private water supply providers have also reported a drop in subsurface water levels and declared the adoption of alternative delivery methods for their customers. Furthermore, according to privately owned water well drilling businesses, the majority of families are wanting to drill deeper and newer wells. Compared to the previous two years, they have stated that the water level has dropped five to 10 meters in some parts of Kabul. Nevertheless, the Taliban have announced the early implementation of significant water delivery projects to Kabul. They have asserted that the Panjshir River and Shahtoot water supply projects will provide the solution necessary to address the city‘s water shortage issues.
Ahmadullah, a resident of Kabul‘s sixth district, utilizes semi–deep well water to meet his family‘s daily needs. In his discussion with Hasht–e–Subh, Ahmadullah stated, “The wells are not providing much water at present. When we take more water from the well, mud rises in the bucket. However, the water level rises again when it rains.” Ahmadullah went on to say, “Houses that use city groundwater are in a good position as long as they have not experienced any issues yet.”
In the higher parts of the capital, such as Omid Sabz Town, Dehmazang Mountain, Karta–e–Parwan, and Western Kabul, there is a greater prevalence of water shortages. Mirze Mohammad, who resides in Dahan–e–Pul, part of the Karta–e–Parwan area of Kabul City, uses municipal water service due to his home being located in the mountains. According to him, “60 families utilize the municipal tap water in the neighborhood. At present, water only arrives for a brief period in the morning and evening. We take turns going for water. The water flow is not consistent; it varies. It arrives one day earlier and one day later.
The homes and mosques at the foot of the mountain provide the area‘s residents with both potable and non–potable water. It is noted that the Paghman district of Kabul supplies the government with water in this area. However, it has been reported that the water supply has recently been drastically reduced and is not sufficient for their needs. In order to obtain water for their homes in this high neighborhood of Kabul, residents must walk hundreds of meters and wait in line near government water taps or mosques. Therefore, they are requesting that the water supply department authorities regulate the water flow so they do not have to search for water.
It is clear that the water crisis in the capital was not alleviated by the winter snowfall. Afghanistan‘s changing climate is the cause of the decrease in water level in Kabul, which has caused worry among the city‘s inhabitants. Residents of Omid Sabz village, located west of Kabul, are also raising similar concerns. Reports indicate that the water level in this area has dropped to ten meters below the surface in the past two years. Most of the people living in this part of western Kabul purchase drinking water.
Private water supply firms have acknowledged the decline in water levels in various sections of Kabul City, and assert that the water in deep wells has also fallen significantly and does not meet the requirements of their consumers. To supply water from distant locations, such as Paghman district, to Kabul City communities, the officials of these companies have now resorted to other options for deep wells.
Despite the fact that the majority of water wells in Kabul‘s fifth, sixth, and seventh districts have dried up and are no longer usable, deep–well drilling businesses appear to be content with their current success. Wazir Gul, the owner of one of the city‘s private water well drilling companies, states that people are requesting that they construct a 90–meter–deep well for them, despite the fact that there are rocks in the area and the force only rises to 60 to 70 meters. Additionally, Vazirgol adds that the Chardehi neighborhood of Kabul had water at a depth of 15 meters until ten years ago, but that depth has since dropped to 35 meters. ago, but that depth has since dropped to 35 meters.
The Ministry of Energy and Water estimates that Kabul uses up to 30 million cubic meters of water annually, however, its actual absorption and production are significantly lower.
Selling Water in the Capital City of Kabul
For more than a year, the people of Kabul have been purchasing drinking water from private companies in addition to utilizing the public water supply and wells. Many individuals use motorcycles to transport small amounts of water which they then distribute to households in exchange for payment. Each liter of drinking water sold by these individuals for one Afghani is advertised as “purified water.” These businesses sell tens of liters of water to families in need each day to meet their water requirements.
The Taliban’s Efforts
The Taliban has declared the commencement of two major water delivery projects to the city. Aziz al–Rahman Aziz, Director of the Taliban Ministry of Energy and Water‘s Subsurface Water Resources, informed the media that the ministry had two significant projects in progress to address the capital‘s severe water scarcity, namely the transfer of water from the Panjshir River and Shahtoot. According to Azizul Rahman Aziz, “The project is the pipe that transports water from Panjshir. This is a large project, not a small one. It will cost between 120 and 150 million dollars to complete this project. Approximately three to four cubic meters of water will be transferred through this project, and up to 120 million cubic meters of water will be delivered to Kabul annually.”
Under the former President of the country, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, work on the Shahtoot Dam commenced in 2021. The Indian government is providing funding for the project, estimated to cost 286 million dollars. The dam has five water supply channels, one of which is designated for drinking water. If the dam is utilized, it could potentially provide water for approximately two million people living in Kabul. The date when the dam will be operational is currently unknown. However, the proposal to transfer water from the Panjshir Sea to Kabul has not yet been put into action.
The Ministry of Disaster Management‘s research has indicated that Kabul and 19 other provinces of the country are experiencing the detrimental effects of climate change, with residents of the city complaining about a decrease in underground water. Indicators of climate change in Afghanistan include flooding, a decrease in subsurface water, an increase in temperature, a decrease in rainfall, untimely rains, and a shift in air humidity. The past solar year has seen the majority of Afghanistan‘s provinces experience bitterly harsh winters, catastrophic floods, rising temperatures, and erratic precipitation, making Afghanistan‘s vulnerability to climate change practically evident.
The Ministry of Energy and Water of the Taliban government has confirmed that there has been a 50% decrease in the subsurface water in the city. The ministry‘s officials have stated that the subsurface water supply in Kabul has dropped to 50 million cubic meters, which is insufficient to sustain the population of over five million people in the province.
Excessive Water Use
The decline in subsurface water levels is largely attributed to population growth and over–utilization of underground water. Many Kabul residents use fresh water for irrigation of gardens and for washing cars, clothes, and other household items, which is a point of contention among environmentalists who believe that subsurface freshwater should only be used for drinking. Studies have shown that water covers 71% of the world, with only 1% of this being subsurface fresh water. Environmentalists recommend that fresh subterranean water should only be used for drinking, and that water from lakes, rainwater storage, and other sources found on the ground should be used for other purposes. In Afghanistan, underground sources are utilized for more than 90% of their water needs.
Afghanistan is home to five sea basins, 25 large rivers, and more than one hundred small rivers. Annually, 75 billion cubic meters of river water pass through the country, yet only 20 billion are utilized by its citizens, with the remaining amount flowing freely to its neighboring countries. Despite the abundance of water resources, Afghanistan is unable to maximize their use due to a lack of a stable political system, knowledgeable personnel, an integrated administration, policies, and investment in this sector.
Consequence of Drought
Afghanistan is currently facing a severe drought, with the majority of provinces, excluding the capital, being affected by the drought and decreasing river and underground water levels. A field study conducted by a team of Herat University professors and students revealed that the province‘s subsurface water level has decreased by 30% in the past decade. This study also concluded that Herat’s citizens will experience a severe water shortage in the next ten years if the subterranean water resources are not properly managed.
Water is one of the four fundamental components of nature and is essential for the continuation of life. Uncontrolled usage of subsurface water depletes the water layers below the surface of the ground, resulting in some of the earth‘s surface subsiding. This water scarcity poses a threat to rural life, destroys agriculture, reduces employment prospects, stagnates the livestock industry, widens the scope of poverty and food insecurity in Afghanistan, and ultimately causes the vast majority of provincially vulnerable residents to migrate within their own country.
A number of countries worldwide have addressed the implications of climate change, taking steps such as managing surface and subterranean water, sustainably using water resources, managing agriculture, publishing and disseminating messages to raise public awareness, and creating short– and long–term plans. Unfortunately, due to Afghanistan‘s lack of political stability, unreliable government, poverty, and other issues, no attempts have been made to counteract the harmful consequences of climate change. The Taliban, who are currently in charge of the government, have yet to announce any concrete plans for tackling this prevalent problem.