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Afghanistan: Human Migration, Groundwater Extraction And The Opium Crop

KABUL, Afghanistan

Rapid transformation of former desert areas in southwest Afghanistan has affected the population residing there, threatening long-term viability of this population’s livelihood.

“When the Water Runs Out: The Rise (and Inevitable Fall) of the Deserts of Southwest Afghanistan and its Impact on Migration, Poppy and Stability”, a paper published 30 April by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) focuses on the factors that led to migration into this region, permanent settlement and transformation of the desert. The research examines the desert communities that are highly dependent on opium production and the cash it generates that is used to invest in additional high cost farming techniques, deploying high-resolution remote imagery and in-depth field work over a ten-year period.

The welfare of the population ebbs and flows with the price and productivity of the opium crop. Both low opium prices and crop failures have a significant impact on household income, with corresponding reductions in expenditures on food and healthcare. The research includes the impact of these conditions on the lives of women and looks at the effect migration into the region has already had: social isolation, increased agricultural labour, and the dearth of education and health services.

The AREU reports points out that the 1.4 million people living the region are dependent on deep wells powered by solar technology. The groundwater is running out and the research addresses the question of what next happens to these people.

The paper raises the issues that revolve around returning to the original homeland and the issues that revolve around further migration. The research identifies that cities in Afghanistan may or may not be able to provide jobs, housing and services, particularly where groundwater is already under threat of depletion. The authors assess the risk associated with human smuggling and the impact on Iran, Turkey, and Europe and recommend solutions to the pressures on this population, not just in addressing the factors that drive migration to these former desert areas, but also interventions that might ease the economic, social and environmental challenges that those living there currently face, potentially preventing a massive displacement of people within Afghanistan, to neighbouring countries and possibly further afield.

“I am confident that this comprehensive paper could be used as a critical resource on rural migration, environmental aspects of using ground water and an important source for developing realistic policies to addressing the current questions about the population of the former southwest desert areas,” said Dr Orzala Nemat, the Director of AREU. (Relief Web)

AREU is a Kabul-based independent research think tank established in 2002 with the assistance of the international community in Afghanistan, with a mission to inform policy and practice by conducting high-quality, evidence-based research and actively disseminating the results, and to promote a culture of research and learning.