Water crisis brewing in Southern Afghanistan, says UN

Islamabad (Office of the United Nations Co-ordinator for Afghanistan), 3 March 2000 - Due to a severe drought in southern Afghanistan, the water table in Kandahar region has dropped to dangerously low levels. Although it has rained three times this year, January and February have been unusually dry with far below average precipitation. If this dry spell continues for another two to four weeks there is a risk that there will be no rain until 2001. Compounding the current water shortage is the scarcity of rain during both 1998 and 1999.
Water pumps in Kandahar City are either running dry--since the shallow pumps extend only about eight meters deep--or are supplying undrinkable water. Local sources assert that current conditions amount to the worst drought since 1961. United Nations agencies in the region say that water is available in Kandahar City at a depth below twenty metres. Thus it can be assumed that the water table level has descended to a lower aquifer. Moreover, water levels at Kajaki dam are also at a record low and are twenty metres below normal for this time of year.

In rural areas the situation is under review but is also unfavourable. The Helmand River, one of the major rivers in southwest Afghanistan, can now be crossed on foot in Lashkargah, Helmand province. This phenomenon indicates the severity of the current water shortage.

Pending the receipt of water from snow melt in the Central Highlands, this may mark the beginning of a possible water emergency, which would involve a serious lack of drinking water, in southern Afghanistan.

The World Health Organisation in Kandahar reports that this lack of safe water could result in a new wave of outbreaks of diarrhoea, dysentery, and related diseases. UNICEF and WHO in Kandahar are investigating the situation further.

Meanwhile, in Maruf district in Kandahar province and Shamalzai district in Zabul province, there have been reports of multiple deaths of sheep and goats that are the result of lack of feed. Feed available through grazing has declined due to the drought affecting southwest Afghanistan. Moreover, farmers have insufficient quantities of fodder from the 1999 harvest due to low yields. Fearing an outbreak of pestes des petits ruminants (PPR), an FAO team was dispatched to the affected area along with vaccines to supplement the efforts of local staff of Veterinary Field Units.


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