Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

Managing Country’s Waters as a Strategic Resource

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Managing Country’s Waters  as a Strategic Resource
Recently, hostilities with Iran over the surface water resources in the western and southwestern areas were again in the news. The events once again brought to life the urgency of smart and effective management of the country’s abundant water resources. Water is, no doubt, one of the most valuable natural resources and more so in our country Afghanistan. The livelihoods and means of income of millions of people in the country are directly dependent on this precious resource. Economic development, poverty reduction, future industrialization and creation of jobs and employment opportunities are closely tied to how well Afghanistan will be able to harness this resource of which it has in abundance. If Afghanistan is going to develop its economy, rescue millions from the clutches of extreme poverty, disease and unemployment, proper utilization and harnessing of the abundant water resources of the country cannot be ignored. Afghanistan’s development plans will remain only plans on paper without giving due attention properly to the rivers, aquifers, mountain top glaciers and other sources of water that are going unharnessed. The abundant water resources of the country literally can make Afghanistan a surplus country in production and transmission of electricity in the long run. Electrifying and extending power lines of transmission to hundreds of cities and towns and thousands of villages can very well be possible on account of voluminous water the flow in our rivers, aquifers and mountain glaciers. Amu Darya River, Helmand River, Harirud River, Kabul River and many other rivers and their tributaries carry large volumes of water across the country’s swaths without any strategic plan being pursued to harness their potential in agriculture, Hydro-power generation, employment creation and many others. Managing the water resources of the country remains a formidable challenge for the government of Afghanistan even after ten years of receiving international community’s assistance. This is so while, as said, managing and harnessing these water resources can provide the key and one of the pillars of Afghanistan’s development and growth in the immediate future. Given Afghanistan’s high population growth rates, the country’s population is forecast to double and reach 60 million by 2030-2035 i.e. in a time period of only 30 years. A combination of population explosion, increased demand for water, climate change, non-existent infrastructure and continued poverty can lead to serious water shortages in the country. The problem will be particularly acute in urban centers and cities where millions of people will be concentrated in a relatively small area of land. Kabul city is already grappling with water shortages in many of its areas with water tables of its underground aquifers dropping year after year without proper management to let these underground water resources to replenish themselves. According to the statistics available and compiled by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Water and Power, over 9 million people throughout the country are already grappling with droughts and water shortages that have adversely affected their agricultural yield and livelihoods. World Food Program (WFP) and other international and national NGOs active in the area of agriculture do what is in their power to introduce small-scale water management solutions and practices to these farmers but their efforts fall way short of what is actually required. This is a particularly important area where government inaction due to the slow implementation of its programs has been most visible. The government of Afghanistan urgently needs to formulate and implement large-scale, ambitious infrastructural projects in the areas of water resources management across the country to effectively harness them and prevent their going to waste. Water as a Strategic Resource Afghanistan’s abundant water resources have a strategic and ultra-critical dimension for the country. Its effects are not limited to irrigation and agricultural growth but they are also political and geo-political. Afghanistan can have a very distinct competitive edge over its neighbors to the south and west. The Afghan government can harness this advantage to its geo-political, geo-economic and geo-strategic favor if it can effectively manage these resources and use them in its diplomatic and political dealings with its neighbors in a friendly and constructive fashion. Achieving the national goal of food security is another imperative that demands responsible management of the country’s water resources. Close to 75% of population in the country depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. The country’s economy is also predominantly based on agriculture and irrigation has a vital role as rainfall is scanty and its patterns erratic. Findings suggest that 70% of all the crops harvested in the country depend on irrigation. This places an extra emphasis on the urgency of developing and implementing a comprehensive water resources management plan in the country in order to bring more lands under irrigation and achieve the national goal of ensuring food security for every Afghan. As said, as Afghanistan’s population is going to grow fast and the country’s economy, due to many hurdles, will remain predominantly agricultural, the need for increasing food security is taking on an acute urgency. Proper development and management of the country’s water resources is a vital step towards meeting this imperative. The exploitation of underground water reservoirs such as aquifers in urban centers such as Kabul has been excessive and unregulated. In Kabul city, the use of community water pumps on roads and lanes and also bore wells within the premises of most houses have resulted in excessive exploitation of underground water reservoirs. The water table in Kabul has already receded and with the current unsustainable pattern of consumption, most of these wells and pumps will run dry in a few years. This requires looking at water management in our cities from a new angle and make exploitation and consumption of water sustainable. Construction of water grids that provide every household with a reliable stream of water should be the central point of urban water management. In sum, for the country to make an efficient use of its abundant water, to mitigate the adverse impact of climate change in the long run and to fulfill the country’s developmental goals, smart management of our water resources is a priority. Before any national plan can be implemented, it is essential to work out and resolve the legal regime of sharing our water resources with Pakistan and Iran. These two countries, as downstream countries, also have a right to use the waters passing our territories. Negotiating with them in order to resolving the existing legal disputes and formalizing a legal regime should also be an essential component of any water resources management policy in the country.

Mehdi Rezaie is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlookafghanistan@gmail.com

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