Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on Tuesday told a high-level delegation attending the International Decade for Action "Water for Life" 2005-2015 Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, that Afghanistan is in a unique position both as a source, a transit point, a corridor and an estuary of water and that in line with this the government wants to use its position to maximize the usage of water at home and in the region.
He said: "We want to use our geography, resource capacity, and regional as well as international obligations to maximize usage of water for human, agricultural, power generation and other purposes under clearly mandated and legally binding regimes both at home as well as in the neighborhood."
Abdullah told the audience that over three decades of political instability and conflict have eroded Afghan infrastructure, capacities and resource management abilities. "But we have made significant strides in order to catch up with national development objectives as part of overall reconstruction strategies adopted over the past 13 years with the generous help of many friends in the international community, including all our neighbors."
On this note, he thanked all countries and international organizations present at the conference for their contributions and assistances to Afghanistan since 2001.
"Afghanistan is now in a position to engage more constructively at the regional and bilateral levels to address win-win solutions with our friends and neighbors, based on international legal guidelines and prior experiences, taking into account the legitimate interests of all stakeholders."
He said water is not and should not become part of zero-sum policies or relations. "Water can and should become a resource for friendship, growth and economic integration," he said.
"Not only do we all suffer when water is wasted or not used according to established rules and norms, but we also fail to achieve other social and economic development objectives in a coherent manner."
Abdullah, who has been on an official two-day visit to Tajikstan, also thanked his host, President Emomali Rahmon for his leadership on the critical and timely issue of Water for Life, and water sustainability.
He said that Tajikistan had initiated the process of Water for Life more than a decade ago at the United Nations, and today the country had brought all parties together to look back at the collective achievements, lessons learnt, best practices, remaining challenges, and the way forward.
Among the dignitaries attending the conference is United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. His central Asia trip will cover five countries in as many days. They are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Ahead of his departure for the region he said his aim was to support and promote a common response to many cross-border challenges central Asia faces – from environmental degradation to drug trafficking and water scarcity.
Afghanistan's water has however been a recurring issue over the past few years with ongoing disputes over the resource with two of its neighbors – Iran and Pakistan.
More than 80 percent of the country's water resources originate in the Hindu Kush Mountains and virtually the entire supply of water used for irrigation, drinking, and maintenance of wetland ecosystems is carried by rivers.
Most of these are fed by rainfall and the seasonal melting of snow and permanent ice-fields in the Hindu Kush mountains. But, as stated by Tariq Ahmad in a paper for the Law Library, the supply is intermittent, leaving Afghans in a perpetual state of water insecurity. Furthermore, the lack of water storage capacity makes Afghanistan highly vulnerable to variations in water availability. In general, the country's water infrastructure remains highly underdeveloped; the majority of the country's 12 reservoirs were constructed between 1920 and 1940, and Afghanistan currently has one of the lowest water storage capacities in the world.
The primary river systems that have been cause for disputes in the past are those leading to Iran and Pakistan.
Though Afghanistan and Iran have had a water treaty covering the Helmand River since 1973, the treaty provisions are seen by some as being inadequate and inconsistently enforced. As a result, disputes over water continue to raise tensions between the two countries, wrote Ahmad in his analysis of the situation.
In addition many fear that Afghanistan's Khamal Khan Dam project on the Helmand River will severely affect the amount of water that flows into Iran, stated Ahmad.
Similar concerns have been raised about the Salma Dam, a major hydroelectric dam being constructed in Herat province, which some believe will significantly affect the flow of the Harirod River into Iran, stated Ahmad.
Meanwhile, there is no water sharing agreement or treaty between Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to news reports, millions of cubic liters enter Pakistan from the Kabul River every year. Planned hydroelectric projects on the Kabul River and its two main tributaries, the Kunar and Panjshir rivers, would ultimately reduce the amount of water to Pakistan, Ahmad states.
Abdullah Urges Regional Cooperation at High-Level Water Conference