Kabul faces water crisis as drought, population strain supply

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Only around 20 percent of Kabul is connected to the city’s piped water system, leaving many residents to ensure their own supply by digging wells that are often shared by several neighbors. (AFP)
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Around 70 percent of the city’s groundwater is contaminated by waste and chemicals from leaky household septic tanks and industrial plants that can cause diarrhea or other illnesses if the water is not boiled or purified properly. (AFP)
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Water is not only scarce in Kabul, but most of it is undrinkable, according to the National Environmental Protection Agency. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Kabul faces water crisis as drought, population strain supply

  • A shortage of rain and snow, a booming population and wasteful consumption have drained the Afghan capital’s water basin
  • Kabul’s population has more than doubled to around five million in the past 30 years, boosted by the arrival of people fleeing war and poverty

KABUL: Standing in his garden in Kabul, Baz Mohammad Kochi oversees the drilling of a new well more than 100 meters deep after his first water reservoir dried up. He is not alone.
A shortage of rain and snow, a booming population and wasteful consumption have drained the Afghan capital’s water basin and sparked a race to the bottom as households and businesses bore deeper and deeper wells in search of the precious resource.
“The water level has dropped so much that it is now necessary to reach other underground basins 100 meters, even 120 meters” deep, says well digger Mohammad Aman as his dilapidated machine pierces the ochre earth in Kochi’s yard.
Every year 80 million cubic meters (2.8 billion cubic feet) of water are extracted from Kabul’s aquifers — nearly double the natural recharge rate through precipitation, according to utility Afghanistan Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Corporation.
As a result Kabul’s water table has fallen at least 30 meters (100 feet) in recent years, says Asian Development Bank deputy country director Shanny Campbell.
Snow has fallen in the city this month but it is not nearly enough to solve the water shortage — in some areas the level has dropped 20 meters in the past year.
“The problem we have in Kabul is the massive increase in population, impact of climate change and overall less precipitation and snowfall,” Campbell explains.
Only around 20 percent of Kabul is connected to the city’s piped water system, leaving many residents to ensure their own supply by digging wells that are often shared by several neighbors.
Others buy water from private companies, or, like Mohammad Nazir, fill up jerry cans at mosques or more than 400 public taps scattered around the city.
“There is no point turning on the taps — there is no water here,” says Nazir, 50, who lives on a hill where the ground is too hard to dig a well and the city’s pipes do not reach.
“It’s the worst year we’ve ever lived.”
Water is not only scarce in Kabul, but most of it is undrinkable, according to the National Environmental Protection Agency.
Around 70 percent of the city’s groundwater is contaminated by waste and chemicals from leaky household septic tanks and industrial plants that can cause diarrhea or other illnesses if the water is not boiled or purified properly.
Efforts to increase connections to the municipal piped water network and improve sanitation systems are under way.
But progress is slow as authorities struggle to keep up with demand in one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
Kabul’s population has more than doubled to around five million in the past 30 years, boosted by the arrival of people fleeing war and poverty.
It is expected to reach eight million by 2050, according to a report published in the Washington-based SAIS Review of International Affairs in 2017.
Improving living standards for many households also means more people are showering and washing cars than ever before.
A lack of public awareness about water conservation and no restrictions on its usage means much of it is wasted.
While they try to work out how to replenish the city’s subterranean reserves, authorities are using a television campaign and the influence of religious leaders to encourage households to save water.
“In our Friday sermons, we call on the faithful not to waste water,” said Abdul Raouf, a member of the Ulema Council, the country’s highest religious body.
As they wait for the first winter snow in the city, worshippers also pray “for this drought to end as soon as possible.”
Even the Taliban are on board, issuing a statement to followers to “pray for rain.”
Authorities are not waiting for divine intervention to fix Kabul’s water problem.
With droughts, like the one affecting swathes of Afghanistan this year, expected to increase in severity and frequency as a result of climate change, a long-term solution is needed.
Among the options being explored by the ADB are “spreading basins” — large ponds that trap rainwater long enough for it to seep into the soil and recharge aquifers.
The ADB is also looking at using “pumps to inject the water directly into” the basins and the construction of a dam on the outskirts of Kabul.
“The answer is not in one technology but in a mixture,” Campbell said.
“Kabul is under a situation of water stress so we’re looking for a solution with lower impact, lower cost technology that could fix the problem quickly.”
That would be welcome news to Kochi, who cannot hide his relief as water gushes out his new well. He knows the borehole could dry up again soon.
“We have survived revolution and civil wars, the Taliban regime and suicide attacks, but this water shortage may force us to leave,” Kochi says.
“There is no life without water.”


Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

Updated 23 March 2019
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Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

  • Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday
  • “We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor

CHRISTCHURCH: Muslims held emotional prayers inside Christchurch’s main mosque on Saturday for the first time since a white supremacist massacred worshippers there, as New Zealand sought to return to normality after the tragedy.
The Al Noor mosque had been taken over by police for investigations and security reasons after alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant gunned down Muslims gathered there and at a smaller mosque for Friday prayers on March 15, killing 50 people.
Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday.
“We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor, adding that there were no plans yet to fully reopen.
Among the first to enter was massacre survivor Vohra Mohammad Huzef, who said two of his roommates were killed and that he managed to live only by hiding under bodies.
“I could feel the bullets hitting the people and I could feel the blood coming down on me from the people who were shot,” said Huzef, a Christchurch civil engineer originally from India.
“Everyone wants to get back in again to give praise and to catch up. This is the central point of our community.”
The attacks shocked a country of 4.5 million that is known for its tolerance and prompted global horror, heightened by Tarrant’s cold-blooded livestreaming of the massacre.
New Zealand came to a standstill on Friday to mark one week since the bloodshed, with the Muslim call to prayer broadcast across the country followed by two minutes of silence.
The ceremonies saw poignant scenes of Maoris performing the traditional haka war dance, and non-Muslim New Zealand women donning makeshift Islamic headscarves in solidarity.
A day earlier, the country outlawed the military-style rifles used in the assault with immediate effect.
But one of four concert sites at a music festival in the capital Wellington was evacuated on Saturday night just before a planned minute of silence for Christchurch, underlining lingering apprehensions.
Police cited unspecified “concerns about a person,” but later called it an “innocent misunderstanding” and the concert was slated to proceed.
In Christchurch, police also handed back Linwood Mosque, the second killing zone several kilometers away from Al Noor, but no plans to allow visitors were announced.
An armed police presence will remain at both mosques, as well as others around New Zealand.
Workers have rushed to repair the mosques’ bullet-pocked walls and clean blood-spattered floors.
At Al Noor, visitors knelt at a garden tap to wash their feet and faces in ritual pre-prayer ablutions.
Some wept quietly inside the mosque, where bright sunlight streamed through windows and the air smelled of fresh paint. No bullet holes were seen.
Men and women then knelt and prayed on a padded carpet underlay taped to the floor, still awaiting replacements for the mosque’s blood-stained rugs.
Several members of Christchurch semi-professional football club Western A.F.C. arrived in team colors to honor three victims who were known to the team due to their interest in the sport. The players left a bouquet of flowers outside the entrance to the mosque’s grounds.
The victims included 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, who dreamed of playing in goal for Manchester United, according to his father.
“We all love playing football and the best thing we can do is just to go out and enjoy it really, and obviously play for those guys that have been lost and think about them while we are doing it,” said team member Aaron McDonald, 20.
The mosque’s imam Gamal Fouda arrived draped in a New Zealand flag.
The day before, Fouda delivered an impassioned memorial service at a park next to the mosque that was watched globally and in which he praised “unbreakable” New Zealand for uniting in the tragedy’s wake.
Around 2,000 people gathered Saturday at the same park to join a “March for Love” procession through Christchurch.
Officials and police said two relatives of victims had died, with New Zealand identifying one as 65-year-old Suad Adwan, who had arrived from Jordan for the burial of her son Kamel Darwish, 38.
The grief-stricken mother was found Saturday morning having apparently died in her sleep, just hours after her son’s burial, of what police called a “medical event.”
No other details on the deaths were given.
But normality slowly returned to Christchurch as children played cricket near Al Noor and a previously scheduled 100-kilometer (62-mile) cycling race went ahead as planned.
New Zealand, which has already charged two people for distributing the gruesome livestreamed video of the attack, has now also made it a crime to share the alleged killer’s “manifesto,” local media reported.
In the document, Tarrant says the killings were in response to what he termed a Muslim “invasion” of Western countries.
“Others have referred to this publication as a ‘manifesto’, but I consider it a crude booklet that promotes murder and terrorism,” Chief Censor David Shanks was quoted as saying.