Impact of Afghanistan dams on Pak economy
Although, the spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, Mr. Aimal Faizi alleged that Pakistan demanded that Afghanistan should cut all ties with India, the Indian are trying hard to stall Pakistan’s role in rebuilding Afghanistan after the United States withdraws its combat troops from Afghanistan, transferring their responsibilities to Afghan forces in the year 2014.
Many politicians in Pakistan, like the Chairman Awami National Party (ANP) Asfandyar Wali Khan believe that Pakistan should not criticize the uplift projects of India in Afghanistan as it may have a boomerang effect of being criticized by others. Nonetheless, every conscientious and nationalistic citizen would not resist disapproving Indian mega projects that have negative fallouts on the geo-political landscape of Pakistan.
Amongst a host of disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan, use of water as a resource threatens to be the main source of regional conflict. Afghanistan is looking for ways to harness the potential offered by its water resources, and has major infrastructure projects in the works. But neighboring downstream countries depend on that same supply and fear that any reduction in the flow of water from Afghanistan could have detrimental economic and geopolitical effects.
The hydrologists and water experts believe that the infrastructure projects will not only cause humanitarian upheaval, but also inflict severe blow to the ecological system of the area. Surprisingly, Kabul via media India remains steadfast in accusing the two lower riparian countries for orchestrating violence in the country to stop its water projects.
The Afghanistan water issue has become horrendous by each passing year. The collapse of the Helmand region’s ancient underground water cisterns (known as the karez system), frequent droughts, declining snow melt from the Hindukush, lack of any national water or sewage treatment facilities, looming Taliban insurgency, etc, seemed to aggravate problems as Afghanistan moves to transition in 2014. According to a report on “Trans-boundary Water Policy of Afghanistan,” the country uses only a small portion (about 30 per cent) of the water that originates in the country. The primary source of water is snow melt in the Hindu Kush Mountains with runoff peaking in early summer.
Afghanistan lacks sufficient dams, reservoirs and flow control structures to adequately manage and control this runoff. As a result, the country is susceptible to both severe flooding and droughts, and has little control of water flow into neighbouring countries. In order to improve upon its growing demands for the water for agriculture, the Afghan government with the help of India, plans to build more than 12 dams along the Kabul River, which supplies water crucial for agriculture, human consumption, energy generation and sanitation purposes for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Clearly, these dams will have an adverse impact on the flow of water reaching Pakistan – seen as India’s ulterior motives in developing potential control over water reaching Pakistan. In addition to this, India is helping to build more dams and water reservoirs in Afghanistan’s western border province of Herat, further reducing the flow of water to Iran as well. The planned water dams are also having an impact on Afghanistan’s northern neighbour, Turkmenistan, where Afghanistan is building the 547-million-cubic-metre-capacity Bandi Salma dam on the Harirud River, reducing downstream flow to Turkmenistan. This, in turn, could have an impact on the ability of the river to supply the northern Iranian city of Mashoud, because the development will reduce the feed to the reservoir formed by the Doosti Dam, on the Iran-Turkmenistan border.
Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries, a situation likely to worsen into outright water scarcity owing to high population growth. Pakistan is dependent on a single river system and lacks the robustness that many countries enjoy by virtue of having a multiplicity of river basins and diversity of water resources. The first head works on Kabul River is the Warsak Dam in Pakistan. From this point, various canals are developed to irrigate Peshawar Valley.
These canals have significantly contributed towards the prosperity of Charsadda district. Bara River flowing in from the Khyber Agency in the southwest is the first tributary to the Kabul River in Pakistan. Another and a major contributor to the Kabul River is the Swat River. It rises in the northern Swat near the city of Kalam and after traveling southward for about 70 miles gets joined by the Panjkora River near the town of Kalan Gai in Malakand District. The Panjkora River itself, just like Swat River, rises near Shiren gai in Dir and travels south to meet its counterpart. Together these two rivers continue to travel southward as Swat River and after passing through the Mahmond Agency fall into the Kabul River near Charsadda. Pakistan and Afghanistan currently share nine rivers with annual flows of about 18.3 million acres feet (MAF) of which Kabul River accounts for 16.5 MAF, while River Chitral, which originates from Pakistan, contributes about 8.5 MAF.
After it enters Afghanistan this river is called River Kunar. It joins the Kabul River near Jalalabad and then re-enters Pakistan. Almost 90 percent of Afghanistan’s land area is located in the five river basins namely: Panj-Amu Darya River Basin, Northern River Basin, Harirud-Murghab Basin, Helmand River Basin and Kabul River Basin. The total storage capacity of these dams is around 4.7 Million Acre Feet, which is 25% more than that of Mangla Dam. It is further estimated that the planned dams will utilize 0.5 MAF water to irrigate additional 14,000 acres of land. For a country whose water availability per capita has plummeted by 78.4 per cent over the past six decades, its policymakers need to plan actively to avoid threats to food security and severe power shortage.
There is no denying the fact that being a lower riparian state, Pakistan wants to resolve the issue as Pakistan has significantly increased its water use of the Indus River for power, municipal and agriculture over the last 30 years. On the other hand, the Afghans argue that water demand for Kabul City and within the river basin is expected to increase in the future. In the absence of major dams in Pakistan, it is feared that Pakistan will have to buy electricity from Afghanistan, which is the underlying purpose of the above mentioned plan of the Afghan Government in collaboration with India.
Therefore, there is a dire need for both the countries sharing a transnational resource to table to work out some mechanism through meaningful negotiation. In order to highlight the issue and concerns pertaining to Kabul river projects, experts are trying to estimate the expected loss to the irrigation system in case the Afghan government builds dams on the Kabul River. Unfortunately, there is no water sharing agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, except for an agreement on the Helmand River.
The two states can establish a joint, multi-disciplinary, scientific fact-finding working group to build a mutually agreed hydrological knowledge base on the Kabul River basin; or set up the Bilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan water resources commission to negotiate hydro-power and agricultural development plans. Both the countries can negotiate a bilateral treaty on the use and management of the Kabul River’s water resources for their mutual benefit.(Khalid Khokhar)