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 Energy said.

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 wells.

Deepening wells

"Most farmers dig deep wells and use pumps to irrigate land," Naeem Tokhi, a hydrogeology expert at the Ministry of Mines and Industries (MMI), said.

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.

Environmental concerns

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. 

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.


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