Groundwater overuse could cause severe water shortage
KABUL, 14 September 2008 (IRIN) - The excessive use of groundwater for
a variety of purposes has significantly depleted water tables and aquifers
throughout Afghanistan and if the trend is not reversed soon the country
will face a severe shortage of drinking water, the Ministry of Water and
Recurrent droughts, low precipitation and poor water management have
exacerbated the country's water crisis, ministry officials said.
"Our assessments indicate that due to several factors, mostly drought
and excessive use, about 50 percent of groundwater sources have been lost
in the past several years," Sultan Mahmood Mahmoodi, general director of
the water management department at the Ministry of Water and Energy (MWE),
told IRIN in Kabul.
Almost 70 percent of the country's estimated 26.6 million people are
dependent on agriculture, according to the Ministry of Agriculture,
Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL). Limited access to surface water has
prompted many farmers, mostly in the drought-stricken south and north, to
increasingly use groundwater to irrigate agricultural land or dig deep
"Most farmers dig deep wells and use pumps to irrigate land," Naeem
Tokhi, a hydrogeology expert at the Ministry of Mines and Industries (MMI),
As groundwater depletes the search for it intensifies.
"Every two months or so we dig wells deeper in order to provide
adequate water for our land," Obaidullah, a farmer in the southern
province of Kandahar, said.
Tokhi said over the past few years levels of groundwater had gone down
4-10 metres in different parts of the country.
Shortage of drinking water
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that only about 23 percent of
households in Afghanistan have access to drinking water (43 percent in
urban areas and 18 percent in rural).
According to the MWE, the majority of Afghans use groundwater as their
prime and often only source of drinking water. So as groundwater declines,
the number of people with access to drinking water declines. The very poor
suffer the most as they do not have the means to dig deep wells.
In a bid to ensure people's access to drinking water and prevent
water-related displacement, the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and
Development (MRRD) has dug hundreds of deep wells across the country.
The MRRD's deep wells have helped tackle the immediate drinking water
problem but have created a new burden for children who spend hours
collecting water for their families, often at the cost of their education.
The excessive use of groundwater and mushrooming deep wells also have
an adverse impact on the quality and quantity of water, experts say.
"Groundwater is consumed and polluted in several ways," said Mahmoodi
of MWE, adding that increased pollution of groundwater would have serious
health and environmental implications.
"Contaminated and polluted groundwater may harm agriculture, livestock
and will also pose health risks to humans," he said.
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