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

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.”


Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

Updated 06 June 2020

Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

  • US tops COVID-19 mortality rally with 108,000 people confirmed dead
  • Trump says more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump effectively claimed victory over the economic crisis and COVID-19 on Friday as well as major progress against racial inequality, heartily embracing a better-than-expected jobs report in hopes of convincing a discouraged nation he deserves another four years in office.
In lengthy White House remarks amid sweeping social unrest, a still-rising virus death toll and Depression-level unemployment, the Republican president focused on what he said was improvement in all areas.
He was quick to seize the positive jobs report at a time when his political standing is at one of the weakest points of his presidency less than five months before the general election. Just 2 in 10 voters believe the country is headed in the right direction, a Monmouth University poll found earlier in the week.
The president also addressed the protests, which have calmed in recent days, that followed the death of George Floyd, the black man who died last week when a white police officer knelt for minutes on his neck.
Claiming improvements everywhere, Trump said, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. ... This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
Trump condemned “what happened last week,” said no other president has done as much for black Americans, and declared that an economic rebound was “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations.”
Putting words in the dead man’s mouth drew quick criticism, including from likely presidential foe Joe Biden, who said it was “despicable.” The Trump campaign said any reports saying Trump was contending Floyd would be praising the economic news were “wrong, purposefully misrepresented, and maliciously crafted.”
A few blocks away, city workers painted a huge “Black Lives Matter” sign on 16th Street leading to the White House.
Politically, few things matter more to Trump’s future than the state of the US economy, which was all but shut down by state governments this spring to prevent greater spread of the deadly coronavirus. Defying health experts, the president has aggressively encouraged states to re-open and has assailed state leaders by name who resist.
At the same time, he’s taken an uneven approach to explosive racial tensions in the wake of Floyd’s death. As he has in recent days, Trump on Friday offered a sympathetic message to Floyd in one breath and lashed out at protests in his name the next.
Local governments “have to dominate the streets,” Trump said. “You can’t let what’s happening happen.”
The president spoke in the Rose Garden after the Labor Department said that US employers added 2.5 million workers to their payrolls last month. Economists had been expecting them instead to slash 8 million jobs in continuing fallout from the pandemic.
The jobless rate, at 13.3%, is still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression. And for the second straight month, the Labor Department acknowledged making errors in counting the unemployed during the virus outbreak, saying the real figure is worse than the numbers indicate.
Still, after weeks of dire predictions by economists that unemployment in May could hit 20% or more, the news was seen as evidence that the collapse may have bottomed out in April.
Friday’s report made for some tricky reaction gymnastics for Trump’s Democratic election opponent, Biden, who sought to contrast the improving figures with the fact that millions of Americans are still out of work. The high jobless rate, he said, is due to the Trump administration mishandling the response to the pandemic.
“Let’s be clear about something: The depth of this jobs crisis is not attributable to an act of God but to a failure of a president,” Biden declared in a Delaware speech shortly after Trump spoke.
The presumptive Democratic nominee said Trump was patting himself on the back as America faces some of its sternest challenges ever.
“It’s time for him to step out of his own bunker, take a look around at the consequences,” Biden said.
It’s unclear how many jobs that were lost as a result of the pandemic are permanently gone or whether the reopenings in states will create a second surge of COVID-19 deaths. In addition, the report from mid-May doesn’t reflect the effect that protests across the nation have had on business.
Many economists digging into the jobs report saw a struggle ahead after the burst of hiring last month.
Friday’s report reflected the benefits of nearly $3 trillion in government aid instead of an organic return to normal. Only one of every nine jobs lost because of the pandemic has been recovered, and the specter of corporate bankruptcies hangs over the recovery.
Much of the growth came from 2.7 million workers who were temporarily laid-off going back to their jobs. This likely reflected $510 billion in forgivable loans from the Payroll Protection Program to nearly 4.5 million employers — an administration initiative that helped push the unemployment rate down to 13.3% from 14.7% in April. African American unemployment rose slightly to 16.8 percent.
Late Friday, Trump signed legislation to add new flexibility to the PPP, giving business owners more flexibility to use taxpayer subsidies and extending the life of the program.
As the money from the PPP runs out, there could be another round of layoffs, warned Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Loyola Marymount University.
“There will be continuing residual fear and uncertainty,” Sohn said.
Trump on Friday defended his handling of the pandemic, contending that more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted. More than 108,000 people are confirmed to have lost their lives due to the coronavirus, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
Now, though, Trump said states and cities should be lifting remaining restrictions. “I don’t know why they continue to lock down,” he said of some jurisdictions that have maintained closings.
Former South Carolina Gov. and Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican who briefly mounted a primary challenge to Trump last year, dismissed any employment gain due to federal deficit spending.
“What we have right now is federal policy aimed solely at boosting numbers that obviously would help in a reelection effort,” Sanford said in an interview. “We’re literally buying jobs.”
But there was little sign of concern among Trump and his Republican allies in Washington.
“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” Trump said of the jobs numbers. He added: “Today is probably the greatest comeback in American history.”
He pitched himself as key to a “rocket ship” rebound that would fail only if he doesn’t win reelection.
“I’m telling you next year, unless something happens or the wrong people get in here, this will turn around,” Trump said.