Kabul fac­ing wor­ry­ing wa­ter cri­sis

Viet Nam News - - IN­SIGHT - Lau­rent Abadie

KABUL — Stand­ing in his gar­den in Kabul, Baz Mo­ham­mad Kochi over­sees the drilling of a new well more than 100m 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 me­tres, even 120 me­tres” deep, says well dig­ger Mo­ham­mad Aman as his di­lap­i­dated ma­chine pierces the ochre earth in Kochi’s yard.

Every year 80 mil­lion cu.m 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 me­tres 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 me­tres 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 per cent 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 neigh­bours.

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.”

Un­drink­able

Wa­ter is not only scarce in Kabul, but most of it is un­drink­able, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

Around 70 per cent of the city’s ground­wa­ter is con­tam­i­nated by waste and chem­i­cals from leaky house­hold sep­tic tanks and in­dus­trial plants that can cause di­ar­rhoea or other ill­nesses if the wa­ter is not boiled or pu­ri­fied prop­erly.

Ef­forts to in­crease con­nec­tions to the mu­nic­i­pal piped wa­ter net­work and im­prove sanita- tion 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 longterm 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.

Dam con­struc­tion

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.” — AFP

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