Editor in Chief: Dr. Hussain Yasa Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Investment in Water Infrastructure

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Investment in Water Infrastructure

Water is the foundation of life but no major investment has taken place to fight against widespread water issues in Afghanistan. According to reports 32 percent of people have access to improved drinking water, and about 68 percent do not have access to improved sanitation. Meanwhile according to the Afghanistan Central Statistics Organization, overall 57 percent of Afghans are using surface water, which is an unimproved source of drinking water. Over 20% of the population (mostly rural) practices open defecation, often in the rivers they drink out of.  The majority of the rest of the population use traditional latrines.  The latrines are a better option than open defecation, but still not very good.  Because they do not isolate excrement from human contact and do not dispose of the waste by moving it outside of the house they still lead to disease and infection.  Even if you could move it out of the house Afghanistan has no wastewater management right now, and hasn’t for a long time.
Afghanistan needs billions of dollars for dams and irrigation system to feed and water her growing populations. For centuries, most of the water from Afghanistan's main river basins has poured north to central Asia, east to Pakistan or west to Iran. Pakistan and Iran have both spent billions in recent decades building dams and reservoirs to store water for consumption and generating power. But Afghanistan has been unable to make any significant efforts, more than three decades of war ruining its water infrastructure. According to expert, the amount of rain and snowfall in Afghanistan makes 57 billion cubic meters of water annually. Unfortunately, between 30 to 35 percent of this water can be used in Afghanistan and the rest ends up in foreign countries. As aforementioned, the loss of water means only 32% of Afghan has access to clean water system; we produces just one percent of the 23,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity it needs, and has less water than needed for growing wheat and other food commodities
Comparing to some neighboring countries, Afghanistan has only 32% population has access to improved sanitation facilities while the percentage in India is 40%, in Nepal it is 46% and in Pakistan it is 64%. The lack of clean drinking water is one of major factors to highest death rate of children in Afghanistan. According to a survey conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund, which found that 102 of every 1,000 children born in Afghanistan will die before reaching the age of five. Waterborne diseases are very common in the country. The levels of diarrhea and dysentery, especially among small children, are at epidemic proportions. As well, a large number of people suffer from cholera because of dirty drinking water. The majority of the country gets its water from wells and storage tanks. Collecting water is most often a task assigned to women and children, usually girls. In most areas of the county they walk miles to find water and then carry it back in large, heavy containers. The usual method of collecting the water is with manual hand pumps that are difficult to use. For children the task is particularly arduous and tiring.
The water sources are heavily dependent on annual rainfall and snowfall but poor government policy has severely hampered the use of the country’s river supplies. Climate change and drought are also severely affecting water supplies. Climate change is affected both shallow and groundwater levels. In major cities, thousands of wells already have been sunk while the number of population are increasing due to unemployment, security issues and forced systematic migration for instance  the central area of country attacked by the Nomads. The water table has dropped unprecedentedly, and thousands of settlements face sever water crisis. In Kabul city, with estimated population of 7 million people, 80% of them lack access to safe drinking water, and 95% lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Thus, other cities still do not have access to clean drinking water despite billions of dollars invested by the international community to supply the nation with a steady supply.
Due to lack of a canalization system, the underground water supplies in most large cities are under serious threat. According to some reports, the medical and solid wastes are mixed together and then buried and some thrown on the ground. The experts warn that over time the waste will seep into the underground water table poisoning the water. The medical waste also contains infectious viruses and is putting the entire population at risk. Experts blame the problem on the lack of a proper waste management system in most of the country’s hospitals. They also point out many industries’ lack of corporate ethics for their unwillingness to protect the environment from the increase in industrial waste.

To overcome the issue, the government needs to invest in water infrastructure throughout the country, and devise an efficient plan which should also include the control of medical waste and polluted water in urban areas that is contaminating water supplies. Water sources should be distributed through pipelines and needs clusters of water tanks should be constructed in different areas to provide drinking water. New research is needed to form a collective diagnosis of the strengths and weaknesses of current river basin management practices especially in major cities. This would help ensure future plans for action are rooted in a realistic assessment of the current situation and add practical value where it’s. Additionally, water misuse is rampant is the country therefore, necessary actions must be taken place broadly.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the newly emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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