Afghan Rivers Need Better Management

Experts argue that vital resource could be worth of billions of US dollars to the country.

Afghan Rivers Need Better Management

Experts argue that vital resource could be worth of billions of US dollars to the country.

A national strategy to manage Afghanistan’s abundant water reserves is urgently needed, according to debates organised by IWPR in three Afghan provinces.

The events in Nangarhar, Paktia, and Kunar provinces heard that, although home to five river systems that also feed large parts of Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia, Afghanistan lacks adequate water-sharing agreements.

Decades of war have also destroyed important infrastructure that needed to irrigate vital agricultural land, leaving large parts of the country vulnerable to drought.

Nangargar was one a centre of agriculture. In the 1960s, the now-dilapidated 70-kilometre Nangarhar Canal was built to be a huge income generator for eastern Afghanistan, providing irrigation for local fruit and olive producers. 

Sadiq Sapai, head of the rivers department in Nangarhar province, said work was ongoing to try and rehabilitate the province’s resources.

“Our ministry, with the help of the World Bank and Japan, has built 150 main dams for managing waters in Nangarhar province alone,” he said.

Nangarhar university professor Basheer Dodyal said that nonetheless, national action was needed to safeguard a resource that could potentially help develop the country’s economy.

 “Billions of cubic metres of water are currently flowing to the neighbouring countries for no return; if this was properly managed, just think how rich the country would have become,” he said.

Akbar Sher, an economic advisor to Nangarhar’s governor, agreed that Kabul had yet to make full use of this precious natural resource.

He suggested the creation of a water management research centre to assess how best to manage water supply.

“The ministry of higher education and private universities have not invested enough in the area of geology,” Sher continued. “Unless they help develop this field, we will not have the internal capacity to manage our waters.”

Sher also said that the government needed to address issues surrounding the waters of the Kunar River, shared with neighbouring Pakistan.

In Paktia, speakers also highlighted the poor state of local infrastructure.

Hedayatullah Salari, a lecturer in agriculture at Paktia University, said, “We don’t have the necessary equipment to make use of the water; our channels, pools, and dams are in ruins which all lead to wasted water.”

Salari compared the situation to that across the border in Iran, where he had received his education.

“A lot of wheat in Iran is grown in the state of Sistan, which is wholly watered by the Helmand River. In Mashad province, the Harirod River feeds agriculture. The government of Afghanistan has not fulfilled its responsibilities.”

Noor Mohammad Ahmadzai, an economics professor in Paktia University, also said that Afghanistan should look to best practice abroad.

“There are international water treaties in other countries; Afghanistan also should make use of these treaties,” he said.

Provincial council member Taj Mohammad Mangal said that the relevant ministries had failed to tackle this issue ever since the fall of the Taleban in 2001.

“There has been a need for a proper plan for the better use and regulation of water, but this has not been met over the last 14 years,” he said.

In Kunar, participants differed on whether the government could have taken effective control of water resources with the help of the international community.

Shafiullah Sultanzai, a lecturer in Kunar’s Institute of Administration and Accounting, said that Afghanistan’s natural resources should have made it a rich country by now.

It was government mismanagement that was holding back progress, he said.

“Afghanistan has received billions of US dollars in aid,” Sultanzai continued. “If these funds had been spent on long-term projects, then possibly Afghanistan would have become better developed. But the funds were spent on short term projects.”

Abdulghani Mosammim, the spokesman of the governor of Kunar, said that the problem was just too massive for Kabul to tackle.

“According to surveys by the ministry of energy and water, it would take 30 billion US dollars and 30 years of work to control water supply in Afghanistan,” he said. “At the current time, this kind of expense is outside of the ability of the government.”

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of the IWPR programme Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society.

Frontline Updates
Support local journalists