Why are we thirsty on the banks of rivers?
A conference in Kabul on the occasion of World Water Day, March 16, rued the huge economic loss.
Basheer Dodyal, lecturer in the economics faculty of Kabul University, estimates only 30 percent of the natural resource is being used for agriculture and hydropower. Ninety percent of the country barely gets a few hours of power daily if at all.
Meanwhile Pakistan, he said, was planning to dam water from the Kabul River in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district for a hydel project that is expected to produce 4320 MW of electricity.
The country needs a policy and strategy for the proper usage of water, Dodyal urged the conference, which was attended by experts from Afghanistan's Academy of Sciences and Kabul University researchers among others.
Researcher Ghulam Jailani Arez said Afghanistan had the capacity to produce energy for "eternal needs" yet the country is importing electricity. (See Killid 513, Fund crunch, security derail big plans for dams').
Abdul Ghafoor Lewal, the head of the Regional Studies Centre, urged investors to bankroll power projects. A network of canals also would be a huge boost to agriculture, and aid the country's fight against hunger.
A sustainable water resource management strategy has not become a priority despite repeated efforts of the media and international organisations including the UN since 2009.
Kai Eide the former UN envoy for Afghanistan had at a regional conference that year identified the lack of water management and a strategy as the main obstacles. The UN estimates that Afghanistan could develop an additional 23,000 MW of hydro-generating capacity from its major river basins. A 2012 US Defence Intelligence study suggests simple water management improvements, such as land leveling in the Amu Darya Basin, could save 2,000 cubic meters of water for each of the 4 million hectares of irrigated area, totaling 8 billion cubic meters annually throughout the basin. The former Minister of Water and Energy Mohammad Ismail Khan who is a vice-presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections had blamed international experts for lack of interest in tackling Afghanistan's energy and water problems. "Lack of coordination among national and international private sector for investment in big electricity projects are the main problems before the ministry," he had said.
According to information provided by the Ministry of Water and Energy, the country has the potential to harvest electricity and irrigate thousands of hectares of land but most of the water flows across the border.
Tussle with neighbours Water from the Helmand River has been a bone of contention between Iran and Afghanistan. Officials say Iran takes more than its share of water in Chah Bahar, in southeastern Iran, according to Sultan Mahmood Mahmoodi, director of water management in the Ministry of Water and Energy. Under the bilateral water agreement of 1972 Iran can use 26 cubic metres per second of water at three locations but currently it takes water from 30 to 40 areas.
Afghan authorities have sent a letter to Iran expressing their concern, but Tehran has not replied. "We had clearly stated in the letter that the wells that Iran has dug on the border to store water are contrary to agreement," Mahmoodi said. Iran has taken advantage of the country's internal situation to dig the illegal wells, he added.
Dr Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, the head of national security, has said Afghanistan's neighbours are behind delays to complete the nearly four-decade old Salma Dam which is being built by India on the Harirud River. The dam will affect water flow to Turkmenistan and Iran. When a district governor who had supported the project in Herat province was killed in 2010, police officials suspected Iran's involvement. (See Killid 551, 'Politics to the fore in Salma Dam').
Disputed claims In 1972 a water-pact was signed by Tehran and Kabul on the sharing of waters called Shafeeq and Howaida. While Article 2 of the agreement gives Iran the right to 26 cubic metres of water per second, Article 5 states Tehran cannot claim more than its agreed share. But in 2008 the Iranian government accused Afghan authorities of blocking water, and denying water to Zahedan.
Water expert Sistani who has done extensive research on the Helmand water agreement accuses Iran of drawing more water than permitted from the Helmand River for irrigation. "Nowhere in the agreement has Afghanistan promised that Iran can provide water from the Helmand River for Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province," he has written.
It has been left open for Afghanistan to decide whether it should sell or block the excess waters, he said.
Water sharing is also a dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dam projects on the Kunar River have been hit by insecurity which has been blamed on Pakistan whose own Asian Development Bank (AsDB)-funded Tarbela dam, which is downstream on the river, can be affected.
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