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Dry wells: portents of a looming water disaster in Afghanistan

March 10, 2022
topics: Climate Change
by: Shadi Khan Saif
located in: Afghanistan
tags: access to water, Afghanistan, drinking water, groundwater, water crisis, well boring

The sever droughts and disturbance of the agricultural sector in Afghanistan has lead to a drying of local wells. Apart from losing access to drinking water, families of the affected communities have also lost children who, out of thirst, go searching for water in the wells.

The leadership of the de facto Taliban rulers in Afghanistan failed in their combined efforts to rescue a young boy who fell in a deep and dry well while searching for water.

As the country faces international isolation in the wake of the Taliban's ascendence to power, the international community does not seem to notice the growing trend of children losing their lives in these dried boreholes in the quest to quench their thirst.

Back in February, the national army (under the direct supervision of the de facto Taliban defense minister, Mohammad Yaqub), the public health teams (led by the de facto health minister, Abdul Bari Omar) and many other powerful figures were present when heavy machinery dug deep trenches on the barren land in the Zabul province in an attempt to reach the trapped boy deep in the dry well. But all of this failed as the boy breathed his last breath to the utter despair of his parents -  and the entire nation following the scene via live media coverage of this tragedy. 

In the past couple of months, more than three identical incidents have resulted in the tragic deaths of young boys. 

Experts told FairPlanet the rampant extraction of underground water in recent years - owing to the absolute dearth of research-based policy and infrastructure to manage groundwater - is leading the country to a doomed destiny.

In the views of Afghanistan's very own water affairs expert of international recognition, Fazlullah Akhtar of Germany’s Bonn University, if the present trend of over-exploitation of underground water continues, the supply of drinking water will be most affected, especially in the areas where there is an overall 100 percent dependency on groundwater. 

"Based on the results of our analysis, there is a decreasing trend in groundwater storage, and if it persists in the future, it will have dire consequences for the municipal water sector," said the researcher.

Pointing to the incident in Zabul, he said across Afghanistan there seems no immediate alternative to groundwater as the source for drinking water. "If the current decreasing trend of groundwater storage continues, it might be disastrous in the years ahead and as a result, all shallow water wells will dry up soon.”

Aggravated by Climate Change 

With the passage of time, mass deforestation, melting glaciers and four decades of war have contributed to widespread flooding throughout Afghanistan, prompting many in rural areas to move to Kabul or leave the country. 

The Taliban is calling on the people to play their part in conserving water in the current winter season when the northern and central parts of the country receive snow and rain.

Besides the remote corners, the country's “well-off” capital city of nearly six million inhabitants, Kabul, is no exception to water woes. As per the country's Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE), groundwater levels in Kabul have dropped by 5 percent and people have needed to use snowfall and rain water to fill their dried-up wells to raise groundwater levels.  

The country faces "one of the world's most acute internal displacement crises" due to conflicts and recurring disasters, according to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC). More than 4.6 million people were internally displaced at the end of 2020, 1.2 million due to natural disasters, IDMC data shows.   

Environmentalists warn that these numbers are likely to increase as deadly heatwaves, crippling droughts and other extreme-weather events will only become more severe.

Rohullah Amin, the former Director for Climate Change at Afghanistan's National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA), told FairPlanet the recent flash floods in Nuristan province last year were a "clear sign" of increasingly changing weather patterns. He said that rising heat is not the only factor contributing to the frequency and intensity of such disasters, but so are untimely, erratic rains and snow. 

"It is expected that the mountainous areas such as Nuristan will be affected by climate-induced natural disasters more frequently," he said.

Back in Zabul, Dad Mohammad, a resident of this province where the young Haidar died in search of water, told FairPlanet that rampant deep-boring for patches of agricultural land and orchards, combined with solar-powered suction pumps and spells of drought have caused local households in remote and impoverished communities to lose access to drinking water from old and shallow wells. 

"We have lost many children like Haidar in search of drinking water - and might lose many more if the rulers do not start doing something about the water-shortages,” Mohammad said.   

Photo by Gary Meulemans

Article written by:
Shadi-Khan-Saif-1
Shadi Khan Saif
Author, Contributing Editor
Afghanistan
Student boys and girls are drinking water from a well in Afghanistan.
© Mohammad Sharif Shayeq/NurPhoto via Getty Images
As per the country's Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE), groundwater levels in Kabul have dropped by 5 percent and people have needed to use snowfall and rain water to fill their dried-up wells to raise groundwater levels.
© WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images
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