Afghanistan’s Trans-Boundary Waters

Afghanistan’s Trans-Boundary Waters

14 April 2015 by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung
Place of Publication: Kabul
Date of Publication: March 2015
Number of Pages: 72
Language of Publication: English

Afghanistan is located at the heart of the region’s largest renewable source of fresh water: the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. Afghanistan is a partner to 4 out of the 276 trans-boundary rivers that make up 60% of the world’s river flow. [1] It is one of the 148 nations that fall within trans-boundary river basins.[2] Afghans are part of the world’s 90% population that live in a trans-boundary water country.[3] Besides, trans-boundary water resource development and management, with potential to affect regional stability and conflict prevention, is a highly politicized concept throughout the world. [4] Afghanistan therefore, though unique in its own way, is not alone in terms of trans-boundary water challenges. It is part of a global condition and therefore has the potential, and thus must have the capacity as well, to be part of a global effort that aims at improving water resource development and management.

Access to water is a fundamental factor affecting levels of poverty in all economies, in particular those where a majority of the population depends on agriculture. Land and water, the two elements that together form a watershed, affect each other and play a key role in climate change. Trans-boundary water management and development therefore, is linked to the larger climate context and its challenges must be seen in connection to the challenge of climate change.

This paper is a horizontal overview of the current status of trans-boundary water resource development and management in Afghanistan, and is hoped to serve as an starting point for continued engagement with this issue in an inclusive, regionally sensitive, transparent, accountable, effective and efficient way. It depicts a broad picture of the existing institutional, legal and policy frameworks, existing project portfolio of the sector, national and international stakeholders and their perspective on the issue, identifies a set of broad challenges and offers recommendations for post research engagement by the government, civil society, private sector and the international community.

The paper targets the Afghan government, civil society, private sector and international organizations with an agenda on trans-boundary water resource development and management in Afghanistan. It is decently referenced, for those with an interest in further in-depth vertical exploration of issues, since the paper offers a broad horizontal overview of the sector only.  

Comprising of 3 main chapters, chapter 1 explores the Afghan context. It offers an introduction to the technical features of Afghanistan’s River Basins, followed by an overview of the policy and legal frameworks, institutional structure, existing treaties, current project portfolio of the sector, including an outline of the engagement of the civil society, academia and political stakeholders with the issue.

Chapter 2 explores the regional context, focusing on Afghanistan riparian neighbors namely Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics, explores the existing regional knowledge base and introduces the two major conventions on Transboundary waters, followed by a comparative analysis of both.

Chapter 3 identifies key issues facing the sector, underlines challenges and puts forward a set of recommendations for future engagement of the Afghan government, civil society, academia, research organizations and international stakeholders with the sector.

[1] Source: www. unwater.org/downloads/UNW_TRANSBOUNDARY.pdf (retrieved Sep 24, 2014).

[3] Source: www. unwater.org/downloads/UNW_TRANSBOUNDARY.pdf (retrieved Sep 24, 2014).

[4] The Rise of Hydro-Diplomacy: Strengthening Foreign Policy for Trans-Boundary Waters, Federal Foreign Office of Germany and Adelphi, 2014, p. 2

Table of contents: 

Executive Summary............................................................................................. 8

Introductory Remarks.........................................................................................11

Methodology........................................................................................................12

1. Afghan Context: Water Sector and Water Resource Development and Management13

1.1 Natural Features of Afghanistan’s River Basins...........................................15

1.1.1 Panj-Amu River Basin................................................................................16

1.1.2 Kabul-Indus River Basin.............................................................................18

2.1.3 Helmand River Basin..................................................................................20

1.1.4 Harirod-Murghab River Basin....................................................................22

2.1.5 Northern River Basin................................................................................ 23

1.2 Overview of Policy and Legal Frameworks...................................................25

1.3 Institutional Structure on Trans-boundary Waters Management................28

1.3.1 Government Institutions:............................................................................28

1.3.2 Civil Society Organizations.........................................................................29

1.3.3 International Partners and Donors in the Water Sector............................30

1.4 On Water Resources Infrastructure Development........................................31

1.5 Existing International Treaties.......................................................................31

1.6 Existing Project Portfolio of the Sector: National, Regional and International Interventions. 32

1.7 Academic Institutions and the Research Context on Trans-Boundary Water Management.35

1.8 Political Parties And Water Agenda................................................................ 35

2. Beyond Afghanistan: The Regional and International Context..........................37

2.1 Afghanistan and Iran........................................................................................ 38

2.2 Afghanistan and Pakistan.................................................................................39

2.3 Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics..................................................41

2.4 Overview of Institutional Linkages and Knowledge Base................................41

2.5 International Governance Frameworks on Trans-Boundary Waters..............42

2.5.1 The 1997 UN Convention.............................................................................. 43

2.5.2 The 1992 UN Convention...............................................................................43

2.4.3 International Conventions At a Glance..........................................................44

3. The Way Forward: Key Issues in Trans-Boundary Water Resources Development and Management.................................................................................................... 45

3.1 Challenges...................................................................................................... 46

3.1.1 Institutional Deficiencies in Approach and Coordination............................ 46

3.1.2 Technical Deficiencies................................................................................. 47

3.2 Recommendations: Opportunities for Intervention....................................... 48

3.2.1 Institutional.................................................................................................. 48

3.2.2 Technical.......................................................................................................50

3.2.3 Recommendations for Civil Society and International Organizations.........51

Bibliography......................................................................................................... 53