Heavy rains and flooding have affected nine Afghan provinces in March alone, with another seven provinces under heavy snowfall, causing avalanches and mudslides. Over 100,000 people were affected and casualties numbered 700, as 16,000 houses were destroyed. Due to further rain mid-March, there was a heightened risk of further floods. The satellite imaging shows the extent of heavy rainfall resulting in flooding, with the snow marked in red (photo by the EU's Copernicus Support Office, Sentinel imagery).
On 20 March, the European Commission committed €2 million in emergency relief to assist the most vulnerable families affected by the devastating floods. The funding for flood victims provides food, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as essential household items for those whose houses were destroyed.
In Kandahar province, almost 5,000 homes were destroyed with more than 30,000 people requiring immediate humanitarian assistance because of the flooding. In the province of Badghis in the northern part of the country, flash floods damaged infrastructure and agricultural land, destroying wheat crops, as well as cumin and pistachio cultivations. The floods damaged irrigation canals and water systems, including wells, catchment areas and water reservoirs. With the flood water level at half a metre higher than normal, buildings in the river basin areas were at risk of collapse.
However, heavy rainfall only exacerbates Afghanistan's water management problems. When not plagued by flooding, parts of the country suffer from drought and in other parts, the depletion of underground water basins is the most pertinent issue in the struggle to meet the country's need for water. The concentration of the population to urban areas threatens to further drain the aquifers far beyond the natural recharge rate, in particular in the capital region.
In Kabul, there are plans for rainwater dams that would direct the water right into the basin below. Despite drilling deeper for water, wells risk drying up. There are plans for dams in the Kabul River to improve both potable water supply and provide irrigation. The Kabul River supplies 26 percent of the annual water flow in Afghanistan and drains into the Indus River in neighbouring Pakistan. Dam constructions risk fueling geopolitical tension over water distribution in the region. However, river management is crucial to improve the livelihood for the rural communities in the river basin areas and the capital and a resource to revive the frail economy.
Over the last fifteen years, the EU ran programmes to improve irrigation in the Afghan river basin areas. The Panj Amu River Basin programme continued until 2017 and before then there were separate programmes for the Kunduz and the Amu rivers. Some EU-funded initiatives continue under the Panj Amu River Basin Sector Project for another five years to improve both on energy generation and irrigation for livestock and agriculture. The EU-funding under the river basin projects amounted to €95 million and the future co-funding will comprise $50 million. Improved irrigation infrastructure has directly benefitted an area of 60,000 hectares, yielding higher crops and involving close to a million Afghan water users in associations aimed at reducing conflict over water distribution. Community-based water management was set up to ensure equitable water distribution between farmers. Watershed management was established to prevent erosion, which risks causing flash flooding. Even so, the long-term forecasts show that droughts are likely to increase in severity and frequency as a result of climate change. With less precipitation, the underground water basins do not replenish and long-term solutions are urgently needed.