New Delhi, April 24 (IANS) With long years of conflict reducing the area under irrigation, Afghanistan is looking for assistance from India and other "friendly countries" in building its water infrastructure and management, says visiting Energy and Water Minister Alhaj M. Ismail.
Ismail, who met Water Resources Minister Pawan Bansal during his visit earlier this month in connection with India Water Week, said Afghanistan wanted India to help it build capacities in the water sector, including training of technical staff.
"Our expectation from India is to build capacity of staff...helping (in) management of water resources in the country," Ismail told IANS in an interview. The minister said building of water infrastructure requires "enormous effort" due to 30 years of "destruction (war)" in Afghanistan.
"Not only India, other friendly countries could also help us," he said.
Ismail said surface water available in Afghanistan has been estimated at 57 billion cubic metres (bcm), of which only 24 bcm are being used inside the country.
"This is comparatively less. More than 60 percent flows outside the country," Ismail, who was on a visit to India, told IANS in an interview here.
He said three decades of "war" in Afghanistan had brought down the area under irrigation and the country was not yet self-sufficient in food. "Before war, irrigated land was 3.2 million hectares. Reliable irrigated land has reduced significantly to 1.9 million hectares," Ismail said.
"Irrigation and that too with storage schemes is the dire need of the time. The construction of additional storage structures for increasing reliability of water supply is indispensable," he added.
Ismail said only 30 percent of the country's estimated 30 million population had access to safe drinking water.
Per capita water volume, based on total storage of all reservoirs, has been estimated at 75 cubic metres in Afghanistan. In comparison, India's per capita water storage has been estimated at 213 cubic metres, that of Russia at over 6,000 cubic metres and of China at 1,100 cubic metres.
Ismail, who has received military training and faced arrest during the Taliban regime, said around 500 sites had been identified for small dams and work was being carried out on irrigation schemes.
He said nearly three-fourth of the population was engaged in agriculture, but shortage of water was forcing people to look for other jobs. He said crop productivity had also gone down due to neglect of irrigation infrastructure in the decades of conflict and insurgency.
On the Telma dam, which is being funded by the Indian government, Ismail said 70 percent physical work had been completed for construction. The power project is being executed in the Herat province of Afghanistan by the Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Limited (WAPCOS).
He said Afghanistan lacked resources to build large-sized dams and the country will have to negotiate with its neighbours when such projects are taken up.
Both because of its geographic location and lack of capacity to harness water, much water from Afghanistan's river basins poured into Central Asia, Pakistan and Iran. Lack of capacity to regulate water resources has also meant that the country imports much of its power requirements.
Afghanistan, the minister said, has also been bearing the brunt of climate change.
"The weather has changed and there is less snowfall now. Many springs have dried up. There are frequent droughts. The season of rainfall has changed...Glaciers are melting," he said.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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