KABUL: Afghanistan’s government has started building nearly 2 million trenches and 25 small dams to address a water crisis in the capital city of Kabul, caused by a booming population and wasteful consumption of the resource, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
“So far 25 small dams and 1.9 million ditches have been dug. Since the start of the work (project), 7.2 million cubic (meters) of water has been stored,” said Mohammad Mustafa Naveed, spokesman for the National Development Corporation (NDC), the government body tasked with urban projects.
More than 33,000 people have been employed for the initiative, which began in April this year and is expected to be completed in the next year and a half, he said.
“In the second phase of the project, 13 million saplings will be planted along these trenches, and thousands of more people will be employed to plant and preserve them,” Naveed said.
With an approximate population of 6 million people, Kabul’s demand for water is far greater than its natural supply.
While Afghanistan is landlocked, several of its areas, including Kabul, are surrounded by mountains, a majority of which are covered by snow during the peak winter months.
However, short spells of rain and snowfall — coupled with the damaging effects of climate change — have meant that Kabul’s water basin has been depleting rapidly, forcing residents to dig deeper every year in search of the valuable resource.
When it does rain, most of the water ends up in sewers because almost all the streets and sidewalks of the city are asphalted.
This means only a limited amount of rain or snow water is absorbed by the earth, resulting in low groundwater levels.
Experts say this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as issues arising from climate change are concerned, while the NDC says its latest project could help to avoid a repeat of such events in the future.
“It will boost groundwater levels and increase greenery (which in time will help) to improve water and air quality,” Naveed said, adding that once the trenches are in place, “70 percent of the rainwater will get absorbed by the earth.”
Previous governments have urged against water wastage, warning that the capital could run out of the natural, underground resource in 10 years if more is not done to address the problem.
According to Afghanistan’s Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Corporation, more than 80 million cubic meters of water is extracted by Kabul’s aquifers every year — nearly double the amount created by precipitation and more than the acceptable limit of groundwater use.
It is simple, experts say — the more you use, the more groundwater you lose.
A study published by an independent think-tank, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), in May this year, said that the city’s groundwater levels had decreased by one meter each year in the past two decades, while some parts of the capital had seen a “nearly 30-meter decline in the past 14 years.”
It is a worrying trend, experts say, especially since 20 percent of Kabul is connected to the city’s piped water system, pushing millions to source supply by digging wells that are often shared by other households in the neighborhood.
“Water is an important issue for Afghanistan that needs more official attention,” an Australian based think-tank, the Low Institute (LI), said in a report last year.
The issue is not new, or limited to, Kabul.
There have been long spells of drought in several of the mountainous, impoverished and war-torn areas of the country where people rely heavily on underground water daily, with “water wars” becoming a recurring issue every year.
Numerous cases of deadly disputes have been reported from Kabul and other provinces, with some farm owners resorting to the use of weapons during water rationing.
More than 200 people died, and tens of thousands were rendered homeless, by drought-like conditions and subsequent flooding in the Parwan province, to the north of Kabul, in September this year, while at least two deaths were reported when residents queued up for water during a water distribution initiative by the government in Kabul last year.
“Climate change, population growth, the need for economic growth, and combatting pollution are all factors that will increase demand for water in the region. It will also spur violent conflict within Afghanistan or between Afghanistan and its neighbors with which it shares many of its river basins,” the LI report said.
The issue has found its way to Afghanistan’s borders, too, with the government fighting a water war with Iran and Pakistan over shared river basins.
As a country of 38 million, Afghanistan’s population is expected to nearly double by 2050, according to some surveys, with residents saying the issue could become a “full-blown” crisis if not managed properly.
“Many of us who have survived decades of war here may die from a lack of water in the future should people and the government fail to take the necessary steps to prevent water wastage,” Rahim Karwan, a government employee, told Arab News.