View Full Version : The missed factor? Water in Afghanistan

07-27-2009, 02:22 AM

Welcome and your knowledge should help as the current focus in helmand is a thin strip of irrigated land along the Helmand River. Ironically the irrigation was installed by the USA in the Cold War era.

Incidentally I am puzzled why the UK and I assume the USMC are fighting through the "Green Zone", some compare it to the Normandy bocage. Why are we not outflanking the Taliban from the desert alongside?

Now back to my armchair faraway.



It would be interesting to be able to go back in time and discuss things with George Curzon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Curzon,_1st_Marquess_Curzon_of_Kedleston) for perspective and understanding.

With respect to sustainable low tech irrigation in Helmand the water masters (mirab bashi) and their surface water systems as well as that groundwater system marvel the karez (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qanat) have been around for a while, and it appears that the Persians (among others) have provided some of the long term irrigation advice which predates us Americans and the Helmand-Arghandab Valley Authority (http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0703/p06s36-wogn.html). Kajaki Dam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kajakai_Dam) has an interesting history as well and the British have played a significant role in it of late.

The deserts of Iraq were not too bad for about 8 months of the year provided that one could get water. Helicopter flights reinforced my train ride observations however that the bulk of inhabitants clustered along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. A Google Earth examination of the Helmand River (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmand_River) shows the same type of behavior. If one accepts that population-centric operations are the way to go, then we, the locals, local Taliban, and Taliban commuters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliban)are going to be spending some quality time along the river.

Well, like you it's back to my faraway armchair...for a read and perhaps a nap ;)

Red Rat
07-28-2009, 08:49 AM

Good to have you along. I have not served in Helmand, my experience being in Kabul and points north. The Shomali Plain just north of Kabul was reputed to have been a green and pleasant land prior to the Soviet invasion; I believe that the Soviets destroyed the underground irrigation system there to enforce population movement and deny cover and support to insurgents. What I did notice during my time there (2003-4) was that the river in Kanbul was dry and that the rivers I did see were red with the amount of sediment they were carrying off; erosion seemed a real issue.

I have not read your report yet - so I should probably not ask the question but... What are the social aspects of water system ownership and management? ie were they owned communally or by individual families? if we were to improve water access would that challenge the status quo or be welcomed by all?

07-28-2009, 07:43 PM

Good to have you along.

I have not read your report yet - so I should probably not ask the question but... What are the social aspects of water system ownership and management? ie were they owned communally or by individual families? if we were to improve water access would that challenge the status quo or be welcomed by all?


Looks like an interesting project, and you have provided some very sharp observations and questions which cut to the heart of things; if I may paraphrase ‘Who is running the show, how does water tie into the decision making structure, and why should a soldier care?’

I will save separate discussions on the karez, erosion, Soviet-era water issues, ownership, as well as the tie to the decision making process and why a soldier should care for future lunch-time posts and if you will bear with me I will try the Sir/Cpt. B.H. Liddell Hart approach towards my understanding of the management of surface water water systems in Afghanistan from my far-away armchair.

Construction, operation, and maintenance of successful hydraulic engineering projects require significant community resources in terms of time, money, and people and are able to balance many competing interests (reinforced by AK-in-hand-Law as required). You are no doubt well ahead of me, however I’ll state the obvious, for hydraulic projects in the US as well as the ones in Iraq I have found it beneficial to conduct a stakeholder analysis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeholder_analysis) combined with a swot analysis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis) of the community, and perhaps some associated cost (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_budgeting)/economic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_ecology) estimates from a water standpoint. Unfortunately it is time consuming, although interesting staff work :wry:

Although reports indicate that Afghanistan had a Soviet-Age Water Law (‘81), has a 2008 Draft Water Law, and has a transboundary water compact/accord with Iran which specifies delivery of 26 cms (a very small number) from Afghanistan, the soldier in me wonders if any of this really trumps AK-in-hand-Law. Irrigation typology type reports, such as the open-source one I provided a link to, provide a previously devised stakeholder framework for consideration when conducting such an analysis in your area. My read of various hydraulic & hydrology studies (http://www.areu.org.af/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=42&Itemid=76) conducted in Afghanistan indicates that Afghanistan uses a seasonal water-master (http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/nav/util_water/watermaster.html) type management system:

Idealized Organization of Surface Water Systems (Northern Afghanistan)-Majority of water supply

Mirab Bashi – Water Master for System paid by community farmers may be elected by community, appointed by commanders, or may also be the community elder – Arbab.

Mirab – Water Masters Assistant, responsible secondary canals, paid by community farmers

Chakbahi – Water Masters Assistant, responsible for tertiary ditches, paid by community farmers

07-29-2009, 04:08 AM
If we accept that an indirect approach focuses upon the needs of the local populace the question arises; Could this seasons kinetic operations (Khanjar, Pancai Palang, and Foladi Jal) along Khanishin, Gamser, Nawa, Lashkar Gah, Marja, and Nad Ali substantially disrupt this seasons non-kinetic irrigation and harvest operations organized and conducted by various Afghani’s in these same areas?

An armchair view of Afghanistan seems to indicate that irrigation system maintenance occurs from approximately February to April and that irrigation season runs from approximately May to October depending upon location along the river. The AREU report: How the Water Flows: A Typology of Irrigation Systems in Afghanistan (http://internationalagprograms.okstate.edu/documents/Oklahoma%20National%20Guard/Types%20of%20Irrigation%20in%20Afghanistan.pdf) provides eight recommendations for surface water irrigation system work on page 40 (pdf numbering) and six recommendations for ground water irrigation system work on page 55 (pdf numbering). Discussions with resident Afghani experts in Khanishin, Gamser, Nawa, Lashkar Gah, Marja, and Nad Ali might serve to calibrate an understanding of how the Afghan Government can support this season’s and next season’s non-kinetic irrigation and harvest operations.

Red Rat
07-29-2009, 10:21 AM

I think you have just added a further known unknown to exponentially expanding list of known unknowns :rolleyes:

What is quite clear is that water management is not stovepiped into a (western) utilities company model, but is community owned, resourced and managed; the precise model used to do this often differing from community to community. We are happy with the 'system of systems' model for complex insurgencies, but probably less diligent in using it for analysing communities and social structures.

I think I will leave any further comments until I have read the papers!:D

12-03-2012, 11:21 AM
A Time magazine piece 'What Iran and Pakistan Want from the Afghans: Water':http://world.time.com/2012/12/02/what-iran-and-pakistan-want-from-the-afghans-water/

Water is a critical issue in Afghanistan — and for countries like Iran and Pakistan that are dependent on four of the five river basins that flow out of Afghanistan to irrigate their territories. Meanwhile, though the Afghans currently have enough water for their own needs, any perception of abundance is illusory, experts say. Indeed, the availability of water per capita is expected to decline by 50% in the next three decades, according to a U.N.-funded report. Afghanistan’s extremely weak infrastructure and one of the lowest water-storage capacities in the world means that large parts of the country cannot make use of their own water resources.

Who needs neighbours?
It is true, however, that Pakistan’s energy crisis has furthered its dependence on Afghan water. Iran, the only country that Afghanistan has a water treaty with, is now taking up to 70% more water than agreed to, according to officials, and has built infrastructure on the incoming water without Afghanistan’s consent. If Afghanistan tries to build major dams to hold more of its own water, both Pakistan and Iran are likely to object and to hold up the projects.

I know we have a threads on agriculture, road-building and more, but not water IIRC.

SWJ Blog
04-24-2014, 10:01 PM
Impact of USAID's $580 Million Afghan Water Sector Programs Unclear (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/impact-of-usaids-580-million-afghan-water-sector-programs-unclear)

Entry Excerpt:

Read the full post (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/impact-of-usaids-580-million-afghan-water-sector-programs-unclear) and make any comments at the SWJ Blog (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog).
This forum is a feed only and is closed to user comments.

12-21-2014, 03:47 PM
Mike Martin in his book 'An Intimate War' reviewed on the What are your reading in 2014 thread, has several references to the importance of the Helmand River to Iran - as the water flows into Iran. So valuable is this Iran has supported the local Taliban, opposed additional irrigation projects and more.