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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Understanding our joint water-climate change challenge and exploring policy options for cooperation on the Afghan-Pak transboundary Kabul River Basin

PI: Hina Salim Lotia, co-PI: Khalid Mohtadullah (, LEAD Pakistan
U.S. Partner: Amir AghaKouchak, University of California, Irvine
Project Dates: March 2016 - March 2019

Project Overview

Scientific information on water availability/use and climatic impacts in the Kabul river basin is much needed and can provide a foundation for any future discourse on the basin. Augmenting the problem, climate change has inserted a layer of complexity over the already challenging water governance issues (Zhu et al., 2013; Habib et al., 2013; Beekma & Fiddes, 2011). Keeping in mind the scarcity of research in the Kabul River Basin and lack of data in the region, Phase 1 of the project will include a scientific study using remote sensing data to better understand water availability in the basin and the impacts of climate change. In Phase 2 the project team will explore avenues of water-related cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan and will propose an integrated basin wide approach for the governance, management and development of the transboundary Kabul river basin waters. The U.S. Government-supported partners will provide remote sensing and GIS data support to supplement available data over the Kabul river basin, offer advice on large basin-level hydrological modeling approaches, mentor graduate students and young researchers involved in the project, and review
and provide quality control to the various project knowledge outputs.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have serious governance and security challenges that are impeding their future development and growth prospects. To make matters worse, the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated due to cross-border terrorism, extremism, violence, and a worsening security situation. Both countries also face common issues such as economic growth, food security, energy security, and agriculture productivity, and water is key to achieving meaningful results in all these areas. For both Pakistan and Afghanistan water is vital to the social and economic well-being of population and also for peace and stability in the region. The centrality of water for both countries makes the transboundary Kabul River Basin an extremely important shared resource. It is of utmost importance to study the nature of this valuable resource and explore options where an integrated basin wide approach can be undertaken for its management, governance and development.

Overall Project Summary

Understanding our Joint Water-Climate Change Challenge and Exploring Policy Options for Cooperation on the Afghan-Pak Transboundary Kabul River Basin had two phases:

Phase I (Scientific) comprised of:

  1. Mapping the current status of surface water availability and river flow in the transboundary Kabul River Basin, including future demands and consumption
  2. Studying the projected impact of climate change on the Kabul River Basin waters through changes in glacial melt, snow melt, rainfall and temperature

Phase II (Development) comprised of:

  1. Exploring possible avenues of cooperation and mutually beneficial uses for both Afghanistan and Pakistan policy makers, based on the concept of benefit sharing on the transboundary waters of Kabul River basin
  2. Proposing an integrated basin wide approach to guide policy making in the management, governance and development of the transboundary river

In collaboration with the Pakistan Meteorological Department and Global Change Impact Studies Centre, LEAD developed three research studies:

i) Impact of the 21st century climate change on surface water availability of the Transboundary Kabul River Basin
ii) Future Climate Change Projections of the Kabul River Basin Using a Multi-model Ensemble of High-Resolution Statistically Downscaled Data
iii) Spatio-Temporal Analysis of Early Twenty-First Century Areal Changes in the Kabul River Basin Cryosphere

This marked the completion of Phase I which focused on scientifically assessing the vulnerability of the Kabul River Basin through studying variables such as temperatures, snow melt, and precipitation.

As part of Phase II, multiple stakeholders’ consultations and policy dialogues were held nationally and internationally. Due to the visa regime, the two stakeholders’ consultation meetings were held in Kazakhstan and Dubai, respectively where key decision makers, experts, academics and journalists from both Pakistan and Afghanistan participated. The first meeting focused on understanding the significance of Kabul River Basin for the two countries, the key challenges and the potential benefits of adopting an integrated basin wide approach. Building upon the successes of the first meeting, the second stakeholders consultation meeting was organized in Dubai where participants identified the components of a sustainable transboundary water management system. Similarly, policy dialogues were conducted in Pakistan and Afghanistan to share the key findings of the research and promote benefit-sharing of the Kabul River Basin.

To further mainstream the discourse on transboundary waters in Pakistan, LEAD organized numerous talks as part of its Talk Series on Managing Shared Basins. With diverse yet context specific themes such global best practices, lessons from the Indus Water Treaty and the technical aspects of governing transboundary waters, these talks provided a platform for experts to improve the overall understanding around the concept of transboundary water management. Each talk was also livestreamed in order to cater to wider audiences. The team was able to successfully disseminat the key findings from their research studies to over 4000 stakeholders through different events and electronic mails.

The team was also able to contribute to research on the climate vulnerability of the Kabul River Basin by forecasting its water availability with reference to increasing temperatures. By conducting various policy dialogues, national consultations and stakeholders engagements both nationally and internationally, LEAD brought experts, private sector, academia, government officials, civil society and journalists into the discourse. To further ensure that their multifaceted recommendations are into taken consideration, the team prepared inclusive policy briefs. Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges such as mistrust between the two nations and limited data sharing, this project has been able to open an avenue for partners to collaborate and jointly conduct research. 

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