Afghanistan’s Trans-Boundary Waters

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Afghanistan has substantial water resources, but the country’s water infrastructure is inadequate to support rapid and substantial economic growth. While the water potential of Afghanistan is estimated to be 75billion m3/ year on average, Afghanistan ranks lowest in water storage capacity.

Except for some of the tributaries of the Kabul River that flow from Pakistan’s Chitral into Kunar River, Afghanistan is an upstream riparian country, comprising five major river basins and 36 sub river basins. of which three river basins (Kabul Indus, Helmand and Harirod-Murghab) flow to the neighboring countries of Pakistan (Indus River Basin), Iran and Turkmenistan and one river basin (Panj-Amu) marks the border with three Central Asian Republics (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) in the north. Therefore, a large proportion of Afghanistan’s waters either flow to or are shared with the neighboring countries.

Other than the water-sharing treaty on the Helmand River Basin with neighboring Iran, Afghanistan has no other water sharing agreement with any of its trans-boundary neighbors. Afghanistan is neither a party to international Conventions (1997 or 1992) on trans-boundary waters, nor it is part of the water-sharing agreements that the Central Asian republics entered into during Soviet times. Lack of technical capacity, the inability to effectively utilize water resources, weak water resource infrastructure development, lack of accurate and updated data, and lack of a clear policy characterize Afghanistan’s current water resource development and management processes.

Water resource allocation is a long-ignored issue in Afghanistan that could well rival insurgency and drugs as a major problem in the country. As climate change and demographic shifts exacerbate shortages of natural resources, what has been a cause of long-simmering tensions has the potential to explode into violence in this increasingly volatile region. There has been a lack of investment in improving water development and management systems and mechanisms of efficient use of water. Lack of reliable hydrological, meteorological, geo-technical and water quality data is another challenge, contributing to insufficient hydropower generation infrastructure. Years of conflict and drought have disrupted government’s capacity to focus on the issue, leading to the adoption of a donor-driven and project-by project approach for most of the past decade.

Afghanistan’s failure in adequate water resource development and low efficiency management accounts for 20-30% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fluctuations; Afghanistan’s per capita water resource can be sufficient if developed and managed properly.

Government of Afghanistan has taken important steps in improving water management, though not much on water resource infrastructure development. However, there is need to do more. The current context is marked by over-exploitation of ground water resources leading to increasing depletion of levels of water. Increasing rates of consumption caused by the increasing population growth rate and refugee population repatriation has led to severe competition for the already scarce water resources. Inadequate institutional, legislative and policy frameworks render the task of responding to the growing demands for water more difficult. The connection between water resource development and management on one hand and climate change on the other remain unexplored and thus climate change responsive and sustainable water resource development and management remain inadequately attended.

Duran has conducted a horizontal overview of the current status of trans-boundary water resource development and management in Afghanistan, which we hope will serve as an starting point for continued engagement with this issue in an inclusive, regionally sensitive, transparent, accountable, effective and efficient way. The overviews depicts a broad picture of the existing institutional, legal and policy frameworks, existing project portfolio of the sector, national and international stakeholders and their perspective on the issue, identifies a set of broad challenges and offers recommendations for post research engagement by the government, civil society, private sector and the international community.

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Why Duran?

Duran is a research firm with aspiration to serve. Duran aims to be a platform with the capacity to offer direction and centrality, exercise leadership and bridge dialogues within Afghanistan, thereby contributing to the shaping of the Afghan narrative. We are rooted in the context in which we operate. We aim at sustaining this space for […]

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Duran is a research, analysis, program assessment and advocacy firm based in Kabul. Duran works in partnership with national, regional and international organizations. Duran's mission is to help integrate information and learning exercises, provide alternative analytical frames and orient policy analysis processes.

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