Past floods

Information about past floods can reveal a wealth of information. It can indicate which provinces and districts have suffered the most, and which have never been affected. Information about which settlements have been affected can further enhance insight into flood-prone areas of Afghanistan. This information is critical to allow decision makers to allocate funds for flood mitigation measures, or to finance a flood-awareness program.

For the work reported in this paper, information about past Afghan floods was collected in a geographical database. The data originated from two main sources: crisis databases, such as the Active Archive of Large Floods managed by the Dartmouth Flood Observatory (DFO), and text sources, such as news articles and status reports from relief agencies. This geo-database of flood events was then spatially linked to provinces, and if possible to districts and villages.

From 1988 to 2006, a total of 77 floods were recorded; these are all the floods that were known to the media or aid agencies. There were probably many more floods in this period, since between 2002 and 2006 alone 50 floods were registered. These recorded floods have caused 5,036 deaths; however the number of actual fatalities is likely to be much higher. Almost 400,000 people have been displaced since 1988, and of these more than 200,000 people have been displaced since 2002. Small floods can occur sporadically all year round, with the least number of floods in the period October to December. From February to July more frequent and prolonged floods can be expected, and these are the floods that cause the most damage and devastation.

The Dartmouth Flood Observatory detects and measures major flood events world-wide using satellite remote sensing, and maps them into their World Atlas of Flooded Lands (Brakenridge et al., 2006). Initial investigation of these data revealed that the inundated areas are populated areas and are the primary agricultural production centres. The inundation map was particularly useful for assessing the number of settlements affected by flooding. Most floods occur in flat areas, mostly in the foothills of a mountainous region, at the outlet of a major watershed. For the work reported in this paper, the DFO's data were particularly helpful in creating a first impression about past floods in Afghanistan. It provided necessary basic information such as the flood frequency, human losses and damage. The analysis of the data shows that floods affect all Afghanistan provinces, and that many areas experience recurrent flooding. The provinces that are most affected by the number of floods do not necessarily suffer the most in terms of fatalities and displaced persons. This is due to adaptability of the local population, who even use cyclical inundation for irrigation purposes.

For effective flood control not only is a flood map needed, but a population-density map and flood-preparedness map are necessary as well. Being able to warn people in advance of coming floods will reduce expensive search and rescue, evacuation and reconstruction operations.

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