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Environment and health

Afghanistan faces many environmental problems, mainly the degradation of water tables and wetlands and deforestation (some 40 percent of forests have been cut down) (IRIN, 2003).

Excessive use of groundwater for a variety of purposes has significantly depleted water tables and aquifers throughout Afghanistan and, if the trend is not reversed soon, the country will face a severe shortage of drinking water. The recurrent droughts, low precipitation and poor water management have exacerbated the water crisis. Over the past several years, groundwater sources have been reduced by about 50 percent. Limited access to surface water has prompted many farmers, mostly in the drought-stricken south and north, to increasingly use groundwater to irrigate agricultural land or dig deep wells. The majority of the population uses groundwater as its prime, and often only, source of drinking water. As groundwater reduces, therefore, the number of people with access to drinking water declines (IRIN, 2008).

Surface water quality is excellent in the upper basins of all rivers throughout the year and good in the lower basins in spite of large irrigated areas. As far as known, the presence of saline soil in irrigated areas is not caused by poor water quality but rather by either over-irrigation (waterlogging) or lack of irrigation water (fallow fields and high groundwater table) (Qureshi, 2002).

Groundwater quality is generally good, but varies from place to place. In lower reaches of river valleys, groundwater is frequently saline or brackish and not usable for either drinking or irrigation (Favre and Kamal, 2004).

The problems in a river basin are usually intricate and interlinked. Therefore, no single and isolated solution can work effectively. A holistic and integrated approach is needed to tackle the problems. It essentially requires the setting of goals, preparing plans, collaborating with different institutions and stakeholders and above all effective implementation of the proposed management options (ICARDA, 2002).

Floods are generally violent and can cause serious damage to agricultural land or inhabited areas. About 50 gabion river protection works and 50 flood protection masonry walls were constructed before the war, mostly in the Nangarhar and Parwan provinces, in the eastern region.

Across the country 174 hydrological stations are being installed, the network of stations will measure rainfall, relative humidity, water level, water quality, temperature and sunshine (FAO-Water, 2011).


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