This study is a continuation of the seminars given several years ago by the author, both at the Engineering Faculty of Kabul University and at the Annual Afghan American Engineering Society in the Washington Metropolitan area. It builds on the information produced for these events to highlight the worsening of the environmental issues facing the city, namely the rapid losses of the groundwater aquifer throughout the city. Specifically, the objective of this study is to substantiate the significant reduction of water levels in Kabul’s aquifers, their impacts, and their associated root causes.
Kabul is an old city and has a long and rich history dating back over 3,500 years. The population of the Kabul Province is over 5 million people as of 2020 and continues to grow. Kabul is located between Latitude 34-31′ North and Longitude 69-12′ East at an altitude of 1800 m (6000 feet) above sea level, which makes it one of the world’s highest capital cities. Kabul is described as a “bowl surrounded by mountains.” The Kabul River, which measures 700 kilometers or 430 miles long, passes through the city and leaves Afghanistan in the province of Jalalabad. Kabul’s climate is arid to the semi-arid steppe. Very low amounts of precipitation, especially between May and November, makes Kabul prone to being a very dry and dusty place.
Kabul is currently facing several environmental challenges. One of the most onerous problems facing Kabul is the rapid depletion of the aquifers throughout the city. In addition, untreated sewage and other wastes make the Kabul River’s water undrinkable and hurt the surrounding ecosystem. Another major environmental concern in Kabul is dust storms. These storms are common because of an arid climate, the loss of several wetlands, and the lack of vegetation throughout the city. In addition, the dust storms have caused health issues such as respiratory problems and economic losses for residents. The city is also experiencing significant increases in trash pollution.
To demonstrate the depletion of Kabul aquifers, this study presents data we collected from 22 districts and interviews we conducted with more than 100 residents. Attempts were made to obtain information on the water levels from each resident for a period covering 20 years between the years 2002 and 2023. The collected data are tabulated and analyzed. Subsequently, the collected data are consolidated, and projections are made through 2035, assuming a 2.7% annual population growth.
Figure 1 below summarizes these findings.
This study highlights the scale of the problem in Kabul aquifers’ water levels and the urgency that this problem must be addressed before Kabul runs out of drinking water. S
To discover the root causes of the water level reduction, we interviewed several experts and field engineers who have lived and worked in Kabul for many years. We determined that the main factors leading to the dramatic reduction of aquifers are:
• The dramatic increase in Kabul’s population, which grew from an estimated 500,000 in the year 2000 to more than 6 million residents in 2023, more than 10-fold and increasing.
• The reduction of water absorption surfaces through increased use of asphalt, concrete, and steel.
• The unregulated and technically unnecessary drilling wells throughout the city.
• The misuse of water by increased pumping for garden watering (flooding), car washing, and other unnecessary uses.
• The elimination of 5 of the six wetlands that were continuous water sources for the aquifers, especially in Kabul’s Northern, Eastern, and Southern parts.
• Loss of rainfall and precipitation through evaporation and discharge to the river and lack of any systematic mechanism to collect surface runoff and refill the aquifers.
The impact of the drop in the water levels is another issue added to the present humanitarian crisis facing the populace. The low water levels have caused many wells to dry throughout the city, and many residents are forced to haul water from long distances or forced to purchase water. It adds to the lack of work opportunities and increasing food costs.
This study offers a few solutions that are being practiced worldwide and suggests a specific technique to address this problem. Recharging aquifers by constructing dug wells could prove to be an important first step. This technique is a solution to prevent the rapid reduction in water levels in Kabul’s aquifers. It could be instrumental in remedying other prevalent environmental problems facing the city, such as dust storms and respiratory and eye problems.
It is important to mention that this study only considers the issue surrounding the Kabul aquifers’ water levels and their associated causes and offers the most appropriate solution. The study does not go into the planning stages, such as when, where, who, and how the solution can be achieved. See attached for the complete study.