Sunday, 28 November 2021

Water politics heat up under worsening climate in Afghanistan

© 2017 Laurence Tan  –  An overview of Band-e Haibat, one of the six lakes at Band-e Amir national park

BAMIYAN: I n a good year, farmer and mother-of-four Zahra Tawakole can produce enough potatoes from her hectare of land in the small Afghan village of Raquel to get her family through to the next harvest.

Over the past two decades, however, weather patterns have become more extreme, Tawakole said, with flooding and dry spells devastating farms in central Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province that rely on rainfall and seasonal snowmelt rivers for irrigation.

“Many farmer families have already left, saying life has become too difficult. They move either to cities like Kabul, or even to neighbouring countries like Iran,” Tawakole said.

This year, the farmers in Raquel are entrusting the success of their crops to a new system of concrete irrigation canals that will divert water from a small snowmelt river 6km (3.7 miles) away to more than 200 hectares (494 acres) of farmland.

Similar structures are being constructed or rehabilitated throughout the country, as climate change-induced flooding, reduced snowfall and poor irrigation infrastructure make it increasingly difficult for farmers to find enough water.

“Climate change has seen this resource dwindle, affecting the entire nation, which depends on the rivers that irrigate many provinces,” said Rajendra Aryal, the country representative for the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

But locals and officials say measures to help Afghanistan’s struggling farmers get reliable, adequate access to water could also exacerbate rising tensions between the country and its neighbours, who also depend on Afghanistan’s water supplies.

The biggest source of tension is the Helmand River, which both Afghanistan and Iran depend on for agriculture and drinking water.

The river constitutes more than 40% of Afghanistan’s surface water, say water experts, and runs about 1,125km (700 miles) southwest from the Hindu Kush mountains into Iran.

“Afghanistan and Iran both share a hot climate in summer and depend on water, but there isn’t enough. We’re increasingly fighting over water,” said Sheer Agha Noorzai, a farmer in the southern Nimroz province.

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