Afghanistan’s population of 36 million has suffered violent conflict in recent history. According to the UN, the scarcity of water in Afghanistan remains the greatest obstacle blocking its path to national stability. Here are five things to know about water in Afghanistan.

5 Things to Know About Water in Afghanistan

  1. Afghanistan’s instability has brought more than war to the people who live there. According to the United Nations, the worst result of the political unrest and lack of sound government in Afghanistan is lack of water accessibility. A reported 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces currently suffer from drought. Only 67% of people have access to safe drinking water.
  2. Most people in Afghanistan do not have access to proper sanitation. Only 43% of people in Afghanistan have access to safely managed sanitation, meaning citizens must be separated from contact with human waste. Diarrhoeal diseases, caused by poor sanitation, are the second most frequent cause of death for children under five years old, with a mortality rate of six out of 1,000 live births.
  3. Afghanistan has enough water for all of its people. The nation’s five prominent basins have the potential to provide around 3,063 cubic meters of water per capita. Therefore, the problem lies not with water availability but the government’s capacity to distribute it to the people. The government uses less than 60% of the water in four out of those five basins. The constant and destructive war seen recently in Afghanistan has largely destroyed the country’s water management system.
  4. Glacial depletion has contributed greatly to these problems. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush mountain range have long provided the majority of Afghanistan’s water. Due to rising average temperatures, however, these glaciers face depletion. Estimates predict that the Hindu Kush glaciers will lose 36% of their mass by the year 2100, initially causing destructive flooding and eventually leading to further drought. Afghanistan has also recently seen a 62% drop in precipitation. The Ministry of Water and Energy has identified glacier depletion as the cause of its troubles.
  5. Despite these challenges, organizations are stepping in to help. UNICEF has named open defecation and a severe lack of water distribution in impoverished regions as major contributors to Afghanistan’s sanitation problem. The organization aims to eliminate open defecation by 2025 through public education about building and using latrines to keep people healthy. UNICEF has also helped the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development implement a water supply project to reconstruct the nation’s water systems. USAID has stepped in as well to impact the situation. With the help of USAID, 1.5 million people received drinking water access between 2008 and 2017 and 200,000 people received improved sanitation between 2008 and 2017.

While access to water and sanitation remains a major issue in Afghanistan, the situation is improving. UNICEF reports that in 2017, almost 300,000 people in Afghanistan gained clean water access. The percentage of people in Afghanistan practicing open defecation dropped from 26.2% to 12.74% between 2000 and 2017. Since then, the efforts of organizations such as UNICEF and USAID continue to make a positive impact on sanitation and water in Afghanistan. 

– Will Sikich
Photo: Flickr