Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Economy, Development, Environment

Before the Deluge: How to mitigate the risk of flooding in Afghanistan

Mhd Assem Mayar 3 min

In Afghanistan’s rugged landscape, floods arise from a multiplicity of causes: torrential rainfall, rain on snow, the rapid melting of snow due to warmer weather, glacial lake outbursts, the overflow of natural ponds or even the breach of dams. Regardless of their origins, floods can destroy whole villages, ruin farmland and change the very landscape. Almost a quarter of all casualties caused by natural disasters in Afghanistan are due to floods, with the problem only likely to worsen, given that the climate crisis is predicted to bring heavier spring rains and more severe monsoons. This spring, above-average precipitation brought an end to the multi-year drought that had plagued Afghanistan, says AAN guest author Mohammad Assem Mayar,* but the considerable rainfall has also led to devastating flooding. In this report, he delves into what can be done to mitigate the risk of flooding in Afghanistan, both now and in the longer term.

A woman carries a child along a mud-covered street following flash floods in Herat. Photo: Mohsen Karimi/AFP, 5 May 2024

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As we were preparing this report for publication, heavy rain falling on land, parched dry and hard by drought, had caused flash floods, affecting most of the country. Northeastern Afghanistan (Badakhshan, Baghlan and Takhar) has been especially hard hit by intense floods which hit the region on 10 and 11 May. So far, they are known to have claimed the lives of at “least 300 people, including 51 children, with many more injured,” according to this UN report. Search and rescue operations were ongoing in Burka and Baghlan-e Jadid districts in Baghlan Province, where 80 per cent of the deaths recorded so far had occurred, according to UNOCHA Flash Update #1. It also said that roads in the three provinces had been “rendered inaccessible,” hampering humanitarian operations. The floods have also devastated infrastructure and farmland. According to the preliminary figures in the Update, in Baghlan province alone, “at least six public schools and 10,200 acres [4,128 hectares] of orchards have been destroyed, 2,260 livestock killed, and 50 bridges and 30 electricity dams damaged.” 

They were not the first floods of the year. AAN had earlier heard how the joy and relief of farmers in Zurmat district of Paktia that the multi-year drought had finally ended with good rain and snowfall in late winter had been transformed; rain “not seen for 30 years” in mid-April brought flooding that wreaked havoc with roads, bridges, homes and farmland (report here). 

This year’s floods, and the ones forecast for later in the season, have made the publication of this report even more timely. They have highlighted the urgent need for immediate action to help Afghanistan mitigate the ill effects of floods, to reduce the risk of them happening in the future and to lessen the damage they cause to human life, livelihoods and the nation’s infrastructure. Afghanistan’s geography, its mountainous terrain and vast plains, renders it exceptionally vulnerable to flooding. Unlike in the past, when a smaller population and scattered settlements reduced the number of casualties caused by flooding, the country’s rapidly growing population has put more people at risk of floods. Pressure on land has meant people building homes where there is a greater risk of flooding.

The report uses maps to help describe the various types of floods affecting the different regions of Afghanistan and to visualise their social and economic costs. It looks at the development of one key tool needed for effective action to prevent floods and reduce the damage they cause – Afghanistan’s first nationwide flood hazard map. This important report then details the three essential elements of any flood mitigation plan needs: preparation; response and recovery; and mitigation. It delves into what was done during the Islamic Republic to fulfil these requirements and what the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is doing now to help affected communities and ensure the risk of flooding is reduced in the future. 

It is a terrible irony that Afghanistan, one of the lowest contributors of greenhouse gases (179th out of 209 countries), is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change (see a graphic illustrating this here). This disparity is further exacerbated by the non-recognition of the IEA, which means Afghanistan cannot access climate change funds designed to help the least developed countries adapt. The climate emergency will only exacerbate floods and their dire consequences for Afghans, underscoring the critical and urgent need for action.

* Dr Mohammad Assem Mayar is a water resources management expert and former lecturer at Kabul Polytechnic University in Afghanistan. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) in Müncheberg, Germany. He posts on X as @assemmayar1.

Edited by Kate Clark and Roxanna Shapour 

You can preview the report online and download it by clicking the download button below.

Tags:

climate climate change floods

Authors:

Mhd Assem Mayar

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