U.S. Water News Online
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Abdul Baqi says the ``flower'' is
very difficult to find these days, its life-bearing ``root'' buried
deep beneath the harsh sands and dry, packed earth.
The flower is the moisture that seeps from the upper layers of the
water table, the 27-year-old well-driller explains. The root is the
deeper, water-rich layer.
Afghanistan's worst drought in three decades has begun its fourth
year. The lack of water has withered farms famed for raisins and
pomegranates and devastated herds of nomadic tribes. People must trek
for miles with plastic jugs strung over their shoulders to get water
at hand-pumped wells.
The American National Ground Water Association says the water
table in some southern Afghan provinces is at an all-time low. Aid
groups estimate more than half of the country's 25 million people are
short of water.
The south has been hit hardest. Already arid, at least three of
the five southern provinces -- Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz -- show
signs of turning into deserts.
Before the drought, Baqi's family-run operation drilled just a few
wells each year. It's drilled 300 in the past three years.
``Without water there is no sign of life. You can see slowly,
slowly that the green is finishing. If the drought continues, life
will also finish,'' Baqi said.
Baqi is drilling a well near the mountain slopes on the edge of a
desert plain outside the city of Kandahar. He hopes it will provide
enough water for a small manufacturing business, but the task is
becoming increasingly difficult.
``We drill 100 meters so far and no water,'' he said. ``Three
years ago, the flower was at five meters and the root at 20 meters.
Now the flower is at 30 meters and the root at least 100 meters.''
International organizations -- even the U.S. Army -- are drilling
or planning hundreds of wells around the south. ``This is slow
desertification,'' said U.S. Army Maj. Steven Durst at the American
base at Kandahar airport.
Among the people suffering the most are the Kuchi, nomadic
herdsmen thought to make up about 3 percent of Afghans. ``There are
estimates that they have lost up to 70 percent of their livestock,''
said Nigel Pont, program officer for the aid group Mercy Corps.
In a semi-barren field near Kandahar, 60-year-old Hai Abdul Jabar
tends nine scraggly sheep. ``Before, I was a rich man with more than
300 sheep ... Now I am forced to beg for work in the city,'' he said.
The Kuchi herder moved about 60 miles over the past two years to
get closer to the city.
Jabar's family of 11 lives in tents about an hour's walk from
Kandahar. Villagers and city dwellers don't want them closer for fear
they will squat on private land, he said.
Abdul Manan, 47, is an ``ab shanaas'' -- or water finder, the
Afghan version of a dowser. He now has three to four customers daily,
mostly farmers. Before the drought, he had at most one customer a
With water so hard to find, Manan admits he sometimes fails.
``Farmers are suffering the most, their orchards are dying,'' he
said. ``This is a very bad time and I pray to God for rain. I don't
care if my business suffers, people are suffering.''
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