Depletion of Kabul's water alarms analysts, public

By Najibullah

Afghans stand in a queue to fetch drinking water supplied by a private firm in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul on July 6. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Afghans stand in a queue to fetch drinking water supplied by a private firm in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul on July 6. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- Kabul residents are raising concerns over a severe depletion of water as other areas of Afghanistan also face water shortages due to drought.

"I stand in line for water from 6 to 8am every day," says Mohammad Reza Amini, 20, a resident of the 18th district of Kabul city, as he queued up.

"Every day, from dawn to dusk, hundreds of people get water from the tap in the mosque that is connected to a deep well," he said.

Most wells in private residences in Kabul city have dried up -- even those that were 70 to 80 metres deep. Those who could afford it have dug wells that are 120 to 150 metres deep, he added.

Afghan children stand in a queue to fetch drinking water supplied by a private company in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul on July 6. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Afghan children stand in a queue to fetch drinking water supplied by a private company in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul on July 6. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Tamim Yarmal, 27, who lives in the 6th district of Kabul city, said he spends one to two hours a day obtaining water.

"I work in a government office and must be at work at 8am. After my morning prayers, I have to walk 10 minutes to get to the water line and fetch water before leaving for the office," he told Salaam Times.

"The well in our home dried up a year ago, and I cannot afford a deeper well, so I have to fetch water from a tap built by a foreign aid agency in our area," he added.

Hafizullah, 29, a shopkeeper in the Hangarha area of Kabul city's 15th district, said his family has been buying water from a private company that built a water system in their area.

"Unfortunately, these days the tap's running water lasts only about half an hour, which is insufficient. The water also has low pressure. So we have to buy water. We have to pay 60 AFN ($0.69) for each cubic metre of water," he said.

"On laundry days, we have to buy water from tankers and pay 1 AFN ($0.01) for each litre, as the tap water is not enough," he added.

Growing population, sinking water levels

Various factors have led to the exhaustion of water reserves in Kabul, said Mohammad Kazem Hamayoun, an environmental analyst and former official at the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA).

"In the 1978 master plan, Kabul's population was estimated at 700,000, but six million people are living in the city," Hamayoun said.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan has been going through dry years, with less rainfall, he added.

"The average annual rainfall in Afghanistan was 220 to 250mm in the past, but because of climate change, it is now less than 200mm," he said.

Samad Ali Yazdani, another Kabul-based environmental specialist, attributes the water shortage in Kabul to years of neglect by both government and residents.

"The digging of deep wells, especially by the owners of high-rise buildings, capturing land allocated to greenery [and using it for construction], use of fresh drinking water for irrigation and use of water for swimming pools and car washes exhausted the surface water, prompting the public to start using underground aquifers," Yazdani told Salaam Times.

Water levels have dropped between 1 and 5 metres every year, causing wells to dry up in different parts of Kabul city, he added.

"If this situation remains ... the water crisis in Kabul city will become a serious and concerning issue soon, and there will be no solution by then," Yazdani said.

Serious action needed

Authorities need to review water consumption and consider a policy of charging for water to avoid waste, said Hamayoun, the former NEPA official.

"Water resources like the Qargha dam and Kol-e-Hashmat Khan lake should be cleaned out, and another piece of water infrastructure should be built next to the Qargha dam to add more storage capacity and to feed Kabul's underground aquifers," he added.

"The channels or ecosystems that feed Kabul's underground aquifers should be identified based on the city's 1978 master plan, and they need to be cleaned out to prevent the sinking of underground water levels," he said.

"Afghanistan is an exceptional case in which drinking water is used for irrigating fields and trees ... water from outside the city or recycled water from residential and commercial buildings should be used for irrigating agricultural fields," he said.

Awareness programmes should exist for the public, he added.

"The government bears the main responsibility [for the drought], and the public is also responsible," Yazdani said, adding that the water crisis needs immediate action.

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The lack of water has caused concern throughout Afghanistan, including Kabul. The main reason for this is that the governments in Afghanistan have not managed water well. If water is managed correctly, all of them will require Afghanistan. The neighboring countries do not have access to water as Afghanistan does. If significant water reservoirs are built, and rainwater is stored in them, water scarcity will be prevented, and freshwater will increase, but it all depends on good management.


2- Iran has installed hundreds of water pumps on the left side of the River against the Helmand Agreement, which can lift hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water every year. It is taking water from the bed of the River against the agreement. 3- Akhunds believe that if there is any government in Afghanistan, they should move forward according to an interaction. Such a person should not come forward who calculates with them according to accurate calculations, and this belief is correct because it happened in the past and is still going on. 4- Contrary to the agreement, the Iranians built four large artificial reservoirs in the river delta of the Helmand River, which store more than six billion cubic meters of water and divert the same water through the Khak Dam. And in this part, they have made the River so deep that our lower districts of Kang and Chakhansur do not get drinking water in rainy and flood years because they don't want to limit themselves by determining three points and using measuring devices. 5- Iran has dug extensive canals called Gulmir 1 and Gulmir 2 at the last point of the River against the Helmand Agreement, which they use for agriculture and drinking water, and they do not want these canals to be closed. 6- If three points are established and measuring instruments are installed, then Iran will receive water according to the law and will not be able to take more water, so Iran does not want to do something like this, and it creates new issues


2- Despite all these problems and security threats, we still prioritized this issue because we knew that water management was a priority for President Ghani. Our team believed that if we made any request to the president in this regard, he would not stop it. For this same reason, in the joint meeting, we told the Iranians that we were starting work on the Dehrawad station and would continue to do so. After consulting with my working team, I shared some information and suggestions with President Ghani. On the same day, President Ghani held a meeting with senior security officials, and it was decided that the National Security Directorate should do this with its popular influence and operative money. It was the same that the national security could provide work in the field based on its public influence and with a lot of financial resources, and we quickly installed a station in the field and fulfilled this historic responsibility. Let's come to the main topic. Many citizens will question why Iran does not want three points to be determined so that the Helmand Agreement is fully implemented. 1- According to the measurement data, Iran has received an average of 2.5 to 3 billion cubic meters of water from the Helmand River in the last 40 years. Iran has developed more than 120,000 hectares of land in violation of the Helmand Agreement. It provides drinking water to several big cities from this river and has invested billions of dollars near the Helmand River.


Whenever there was a discussion between the Afghan and Iranian sides regarding the Helmand Treaty, the opposing side [Iranians] would always put these two issues in front of the Afghan side. The first was the flood management of the Helmand River, and the second was the installation of the Dehrawad water measuring station. The Afghan government needed to do these things because the Dehrawad station was and still is the backbone of the Helmand treaty. To solve these two problems, we first completed the Kamal Dam at a great sacrifice to control the flood water under severe security threats and in a controversial situation, and we fulfilled the wish of Sardar Daud [the late president], which was an unprecedented step in the history of Afghanistan's water management. The second task was installing the Dehrawad station, which was the most critical task for implementing the Helmand Agreement. I think it would not be appropriate to mention it here, and you may not have the courage to read it, but I will share some important points with you. For fellow citizens to understand how much sand is in Iran's flour... 1- Iran had turned the Dehrawad station into a status issue for Afghanistan, and the Afghan side was obliged to do it at any cost. [Iranian] Akhunds were sure that the Afghan side could not because they were giving full concessions to the vandals in the area to prevent the installation of the station at the main point.


We have emphasized that these three prominent cases should be identified with Iran first, and then water should be released to them. Talking to them without them and leaving the water is to our detriment. Because after the signing of the Helmand Treaty, the Afghans got control of the water of the Helmand River for the first time by building the Kamal Khan Dam, and a golden opportunity came to implement the treaty; however, despite all this, in the early days of power, the officials released several times more water than the agreement to Iran to show the standard conditions. Releasing the water so decisively while none of the above three cases of the agreement was implemented, this golden opportunity was once again wasted, and the Iranian side was once again provided with an opportunity to promote other political issues instead of solving the main problem. The Afghan side again followed the so-called black berries and increased their pressure. We have discussed this issue with the Iranian side several times, and it has become clear to me that if the Afghan side releases all the water of the Helmand River to Iran, it will not make the [Iranian] Akhunds happy or convince them to give them more water than they are entitled to. We believe that Iran never accepts the implementation of the Helmand Agreement and does not accept that they should come to close the water pumps on the Helmand River and several other canals that are against the agreement. In any case, I would like to raise


The violent, sharp, and intelligent threats of the Irani Akhunds related to the Helmand treaty and the weak position of the caretaker government of Afghanistan's Mullahs! To implement the Helmand Agreement, the Iranians have repeatedly threatened the caretaker government of Afghanistan and demanded that it be fully implemented according to their expectations. Recently, Iranian sailors have been demanding the implementation of Haqaba [right of water] in a very violent, harsh, threatening tone and with great agility, but on the other hand, the caretaker government of Afghanistan's Mullahs explains in the statement where they show themselves guilty and the Iranian Akhunds innocent. I don't know why the Taliban are forced to take such a weak and blameworthy position against Iran. Or it is the compulsion of their politics. If the field is empty, there is no one to answer, and if they think that there is no one to discuss and dialogue with Iran, then they are also wrong; Because we have strong professional and expert teams inside the country to discuss with Iran about the rights and reach a desired result, and Iranians have always complained about this united team and will continue to complain. A year and a half before, we had discussed some issues related to the Helmand Agreement's easy implementation with the Mullahs' acting officials. We have clearly stated that water should be released to Iran on a measured basis. Secondly, hundreds of water pumps have been installed by Iran on


This article related to the Helmand treaty was published in several comments. I hope the greedy neighbors will consider it, read it, and then talk very carefully about the Helmand river/water and Haqaba [right of water].
Khan Mohammad Takal
[Former] Head of the National Water Management Authority
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan


Lack of water is a dangerous problem, because water is the source of life. Life is impossible without water. The government is obliged to build water dams and reserves in order to contain water, so that our country does not face such a drought, and people are obliged to save water, so that the future generation of the country is not destroyed. This is a serious issue which must raise against, and the government must prevent this problem as much as it can.


Care must be done in using the water. Drought in Afghanistan has dried up springs and Karezes! The water level has gone down in our area, and the wells have dried up in some areas. Unfortunately, we are still not careful in using the water. To save water, some European countries have banned the usage of water pipes, and no one can wash roads and houses with water, while we are very careless in this area. If we do not use our water according to our needs, with the increment in population, water shortage will be another disaster.


In addition to saving water, the government should plant water. During the republic period, the government, with the cooperation of WFP and other organizations, built hundreds of pits on the hills and mountainsides near Ahmad Shah Baba Mena in Kabul city to collect rain and snow water. If these pits are monitored occasionally, and trees are planted in them, they can keep the air clean and store the water. The same process should be implemented in the hills and deserts near Kabul city. Another thing is that green areas should be kept green. In the green areas based on the previous master plan and people have usurped them, the houses should be demolished, and the areas should become green to prevent the destruction of the environment and waste the water. Apart from this, there should be a ban on drilling new deep wells. And from the people who dug deep wells, AFN 10-20 thousand should be collected for each well, and drinking water should be brought to the city from Paghman and other nearby areas. In addition, water from the city's sewerage should be treated and recycled for drinking.


Lack of water is the biggest and most serious problem in the whole country and especially in Kabul. As long as the government does not create a proper management in the field of water and does not build large reserves for water, this problem will not only not be solved, but will get worse and people will face more problems with the passage of time. People should also be careful with water consumption, do not open taps in their homes for no reason, avoid digging wells or deep wells in their place, because water is life and every person should use it as much as needed.