While the world watches Afghanistan in horror, IXWater is worried that the Taliban will overtake or cut off access to water, a critical need for sustaining life. For centuries, much water has been transported via an underground irrigation system called Qanat/Karez. They are gently sloping, vertical tunnels that run from uphill aquifers to arid farmland. V Govidankutty, an expert of the Qanat/Karez system stated, “I am not sure they will be damaging these systems because these are basic water supply lines. These sustain the lives of people there. There is no other water source. This being a Persian system that evolved there and having been passed on from generation to generation also makes it important to the locals.”
In contrast, the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Harirud River has seen ten attacks by the Taliban in the past week, and has had at least 10 rockets fired at it. The second largest dam in the country, the Dahla Dam, is currently under Taliban control. Dams provide water for electricity, irrigation and for personal use to about 70% of the population.
Experts believe that the goal of the Taliban is to control these dams in order to coerce local populations to work with them. They hypothesize that the objective is not to destroy the dams, but to use water as a motivator. Unfortunately, poverty among Afghans makes them especially susceptible to recruitment by the Taliban.
Suhail Shaheen, a negotiator for the Taliban, told the BBC that the citizens of Afghanistan are safe, and that there will be no revenge for joining the Afghan military or police forces. However, according to the United States Institute of Peace, “Civilian casualties have soared during the most recent Taliban offensives and there are reports of widespread Taliban atrocities… Recent reports of summary executions of captured Afghan soldiers, beating women who are considered to be immodestly dressed, forced marriages, and assassinations of civil society leaders and journalists have created a sense of panic among the population and led to a massive crisis of internal displacement.”
Given the imperative to have access to water, and witnessing the brutality of the Taliban, it is easy to imagine that they will soon deny water to the people they are trying to control. We have plenty of evidence that desperation will force people to do things they would not otherwise consider.
By Eleanor Cabell