June 16, 2010 / 11:05 PM / in 7 years

New survey points to major water problems in Kabul

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s capital Kabul could face water shortages in the next 50 years, with wells likely to dry up due to rising temperatures associated with climate change, said a U.S. study released on Wednesday.

Afghan children prepare to collect water from a water pump in Kabul March 22, 2010. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/Files

The U.S. Geological Survey study estimated drinking water needs in the Kabul basin area could rise sixfold in the next five decades because of rising population as refugees return and an increase in per capital water usage.

Future water resources -- some already subject to contamination in the capital -- were at risk, said the study which estimated at least 60 percent of shallow groundwater supply wells in the Kabul basin area could be affected and dry up as a result of climate change.

It was uncertain how long ground water in the basin’s less widely used deep aquifer could be sustained, particularly with greater water use for agriculture needs, the study said.

According to current U.N. estimates, Kabul’s population is currently about 4 million and could reach 9 million in 50 years, said the authors of the report.

Currently, the population uses about 40 liters of water per person per day, compared to other nations which consume about double that, said Thomas Mack, lead author of the report.

“With improved quality of living we expect water use per person to increase and so with more people using more water, we have about six times more water being used,” said Mack at a presentation of the study at the Afghan Embassy in Washington D.C. “That is a large concern,” he added.

The USGS team, which worked alongside Afghan experts, looked at air temperatures recorded since 1960 and found an increase of about two degrees centigrade per decade with the biggest increases found in February.

The impact of warming temperatures was that snow, which feeds rivers throughout the basin, melted earlier each year and left less water available for use later on, particularly during the summer months when it was needed most.

The study cited water quality concerns in Kabul, which the USGS said could be alleviated by better sanitation and waste water treatment facilities and improved well construction. There are no treatment facilities in Kabul.

“The issue of water management is a crucial issue for the future of Afghanistan,” said Said Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States.

There are some areas, particularly in north Afghanistan, that are rich in water and Jawad said if the right legal framework were established, his country could in the future be an important source of water to neighboring nations .

He urged international donors to focus more attention and investment on water management issues, adding that if there were a sustained source of water year-round this could help farmers switch to horticulture from illegal opium poppy crops whose proceeds fuel the insurgency. (Editing by Todd Eastham)

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