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Groundwater Pollution Renders Parts Of Afghan Capital Uninhabitable

FILE: Most Kabul Kabul residents rely on groundwater.
FILE: Most Kabul Kabul residents rely on groundwater.

KABUL, -- Residents of Afghanistan’s restive, teeming capital have struggled for years with terrorist attacks, a lack of services, a booming population, clogged traffic, and toxic air.

But the alarming pollution of Kabul’s groundwater is now rendering parts of the high-altitude capital uninhabitable. The problem is even forcing beleaguered residents to contemplate moving elsewhere.

Hameed, who goes by one name only, is one such resident. He says that the pollution in some eastern Kabul neighborhoods is so intense that that the groundwater tastes and looks different than normal water.

“Kabul is gradually turning into a city not suitable to live in,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “All the groundwater is polluted, which adds to our miseries and has afflicted us with various diseases.”

Zahra, another Kabul resident, says polluted groundwater is now their primary concern. “We want the relevant authorities to take immediate action because our water is no longer usable,” she said.

Faiz Mohammad Misaq, a physician in Kabul, says waterborne diseases are on the rise in the capital. “We are seeing increased cases of diarrheal diseases, typhoid, and other diseases caused by bacteria and pathogens that thrive in polluted groundwater,” he said.

A study by the nongovernmental organization Fikr earlier this year established that in many areas of Kabul groundwater is contaminated with pathogens that pose a serious risk to human health.

"We have witnessed pollution in a third of the groundwater in parts of Kabul,” researcher Abbas Payendanek told Tolo News.

A study of Kabul aquifers published last year established that water supply to the Afghan capital “is at serious risk due to groundwater over abstraction and severe contamination by sewage.”

The study noted that 85 percent of Kabul’s estimated 5 million residents depend on water pumped out of shallow aquifers, which are depleting fast.

“Water-quality analyses of Kabul aquifers show a negative trend in groundwater quality in respect to concentration of nitrates, borates, and fecal microbes,” the paper noted. “This pollution exceeds the maximum permissible values determined by the World Health Organization.”

Hameedullah Yalani, the director of the sewerage and water supply division at Afghanistan’s Urban Development Ministry, acknowledges that the groundwater in some Kabul neighborhoods such as Shah-re Nau, Shar-e Kohna and Khwaja Baghra is polluted.

“We definitely have a problem, and I am concerned,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We are trying to address this problem and are also seeking help from the Water and Power Ministry.”

Yalani says his organization plans to establish several water treatment plants this year. He says the first such plant will be established in Khwaja Baghra.

Abdul Wali Mudaqiq, a senior official at Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA), says they, too, are attempting to address the problem.

“This is a priority for us, and we are addressing it by establishing a new standard for clean drinking water,” he said. “We are now working with several government agencies to ensure that water everywhere meets this standard.”

Afghan lawmakers, however, are not convinced. Aryan Yoon, a member of Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of the Afghan Parliament, says a rapid increase in Kabul’s population from less than 1 million in 2001 to more than 5 million today has added to its pollution woes.

“It is the government’s responsibility to swiftly address the water crisis,” she said.