Impact of floods

Afghanistan's economy is mainly sustained by agricultural and livestock produce, therefore floods hinder the economy to a considerable extent. A small flood can take away the source of income of an entire village and plunge its livelihood into uncertainty. Larger floods can cripple the economy of entire regions or even have influence on a nationwide scale. The March flood of 2007 was especially devastating in this regard as it crippled the larger part of the nation. Such large-scale floods destroy communication lines, the electricity grid, and road links including bridges; these floods also contaminate drinking water in village wells, and disease spreads if the water is left untreated. Owing to limited assessment by aid agencies and the lack of insurance coverage, there are few estimates available of the financial impact of flooding. However, the major flood of 1988 that displaced 3,000 people caused an estimated damage of US$260 million (Brakenridge et al., 2006), which is a considerable amount of money for a country that has an approximate GDP of US$5.5 billion.

Prolonged inundation of agricultural lands will destroy the harvest and with it the source of income for entire families. However, non-damaging, less-intensive short floods provide the arable land with new nutrients, as these fields are irrigated during a flood period. Furthermore, water is stored in reservoirs for later use. Turbulent floods, however, can carry away the top soil or deposit amounts of non-fertile sediment (USDA, 1996), thus depriving the land of crop-carrying capacity for long periods. The Afghan irrigation infrastructure is basic, and is easily destroyed by flooding. It consists mainly of primitive log dams, fascines and sand-pebble-filled bags used for construction of aryk [qanat style] networks (Zonn, 2002). Soviet specialists and other organizations have calculated that every year up to 10% of the crop is lost due to failure of and interruptions in the use of canals, while up to 30% of land in the lower reaches of these canals remains without water because of the absence of regulation structures on them (Zonn, 2002).

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily landmine-affected areas in the world. The Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan indicated that 2,368 Afghan communities are exposed to 716 million square meters of suspected hazardous areas, affecting as many as 4.2 million people (UNMAS, 2005). Severe flooding can cause displacement of these mines, and deposit them in other areas. Lighter landmines, mostly anti-personnel mines, can be swept away over large areas, moving downstream. As these mines exist almost entirely out of plastic some can even float in water (Wareham, 2002).

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