Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

BREAKING NEWS: Double Rainbow over Kabul

Thomas Ruttig 2 min

Rain in Kabul is always good news. But it also has an aesthetic component: Before the backdrop of the mountains around the city, it creates the most beautiful rainbows. This inspired AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and Fabrizio Foschini to muse about a few rain-related issues.

The heavy shower that went down over Afghanistan’s usually dust-covered capital this afternoon was both welcome for suppressing the almost eternal dust cloud and a photo opportunity of the positive kind (see above our Senior AAN Photographer Fabizio Foschini’s snapshot).
It also raised hopes for a fall and winter that brings the city and its environs the precipitation it needs to feed its agricultural lands and its increasingly strained aquifers that feed its wells.

Last winter has been too dry. In Logar, the province to the immediate southeast of Kabul, for example, surface water that irrigates the fields was not available anymore in mid-summer already. (The wells for drinking water were still full, though.)

In Kabul itself, we have observed over the past decade or so how Kabulis had to dig ever deeper wells. At a conference held in Kabul in 2005, participants informed that the ground water levels in the Kabul basin had decreased by about 10 meters by that year, compared to the 1970s. In Kabul’s Shahr-e Naw, ground water was found 1 to 3 meters deep, while it was 9 meters in 2005 (read more here). The problem is further compounded by the fact that Kabul’s steadily rising population uses more water than is reproduced:

‘The steadily rising population is estimated to consume 30–40 million m3 groundwater per year which is contrasted by an estimated recharge of 20–45 million m3/a in wet years. The 2000–2005 drought has prevented significant recharge resulting in intense overexploitation indicated by falling groundwater levels’ (original source here).

What comes down as rain in Kabul, comes down as snow in the mountains of Paghman and of the Hazarajat beyond in the west as well as over the Spin Ghar in the east. On our way in, flying from Dubai, we already spotted the first white mountain tops. In spring, the melt-water originating from there will feed the fields.

But while Kabul had 58 days of precipitation annually in the early 1970s, the average over the past 11 years (see the source here) was only 26.8 days, a worrying decrease of over 50 per cent.

How important the precipitation is, is reflected in the well-known phrase that ‘Kabul be-zar bashad, be-barf ne-bashad’ (Kabul might remain without gold, but not without snow).

Back to the rainbow: In Dari/Farsi, it is called Kaman-e Rustam, Rustam’s bow – Rustam being a hero in the Persian mythology. In Firdoussi’s Book of Kings, the Shahname, he, unknowingly, kills his own son in a fight (see also the German Hildebrand saga). Rustam was in possession of some magical weapons. He always – for example on the famous Herati miniatures – appears clad in a talismanic tiger skin (babr bayan) and a powerful bow with whom he killed his most dangerous enemy, Esfandiar, piercing both of his eyes with a double-pointed arrow.

Rustam stems from Sistan, and is therefore also considered a national hero of Afghanistan.

But there is another meaning to the rainbow in Afghan mythology, too. It is said that by passing under it, children in the womb of pregnant women change their gender.


Environment Kabul