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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Using water resources systems analysis to guide transboundary Kabul River water partnership

PI: Hina Lotia (, Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan
U.S. Partner: Julie Kiang, U.S. Geological Survey; Jerad Bales, Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI); and Robert A. Pietrowsky, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources
Project Dates: February 2017 to January 2020

Project Overview:

Transboundary water resources systems are constrained by complex social, economic, and environmental processes that require decision making in a sophisticated framework involving many stakeholders, who are directly or indirectly affected by those decisions. The transboundary Kabul River Basin is no exception to such challenges, where sensitive geopolitical relationships and an unconventional political order have arrested efforts for any cooperative water resources management system between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Current river basin management is very fragmented and narrow in scope. Decisions are often made without a full appreciation of the cross-sectoral impacts and socioeconomic implications. The aim of this project is to support policy makers in both countries to work towards a benefit-sharing approach for the Kabul River Basin. Development of the case for this approach will be based on scientific analysis supported by a strong stakeholder and public policy engagement process to ensure that the outputs are impactful and reflective of the stakeholders’ aspirations.

A systems modeling approach for optimized water resources management in the Kabul River Basin will be implemented to provide a strong scientific basis for a benefit-sharing regime between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The project will address how natural, social, and environmental drivers combine to impact transboundary water management in the Kabul River Basin. This advances scientific knowledge and technical capabilities in two primary ways:
  1. By developing an enhanced, spatially distributed, glacial hydrology model and coupling it with a water resources systems model. To deal with the data-scarce nature of the study area, model calibration and optimization will account for the various sources of uncertainty by making use of high-performance computing.
  2. By incorporating a feedback mechanism in the coupled-modeling approach where the decision from one agent impacts the decision from the other and vice versa. This allows for a better reflection of real world decision making. Embedding the technical analysis within a comprehensive stakeholder and public policy engagement framework should also improve knowledge accessibility and drive long-term policy action.
Water resources are crucial for the development and economic prosperity of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The transboundary Kabul River Basin presents a strategic opportunity for the neighboring countries to develop a cooperative water resources management framework that can maximize the benefits for both sides. Unfortunately, historical geopolitical tensions and regional dynamics have created an atmosphere of mistrust where both countries are undertaking unilateral policy action on the river basin that will have implications for downstream communities. The project team is a unique interdisciplinary collaboration between international academic institutions, policy research organizations, and government departments, which should help to ensure that their modeling efforts and analysis are grounded in reality and thus more effective and more likely to be adopted by stakeholders.

Summary of Recent Activities:

The project team used the second quarter of 2017 to draft the scientific methodology for modeling and simulation component in consultation with experts. This will be presented at the project inception meeting for feedback from project partners. The team also began engaging post graduate students in research activities with Lahore University of Management Sciences. The purpose of this initiative is value addition to project activities as well as the capacity building of young researchers on transboundary water issues. Additionally, LEAD Pakistan gave briefings about the project at various national and international fora throughout the quarter including Workshop on Transboundary Water Cooperation in Nepal, National Training on Benefit Sharing in the Indus Basin in Islamabad, PEER Kabul River Basin Forum in Sri Lanka, and other one-to-one meetings and discussions with subject experts, academic institutes, and government officials. Lastly, a face to face meeting was held with the Afghan project partner Dr. Naim Eqrar to discuss ongoing geopolitical challenges which are constraining cross-border engagement on water resources. Options are being discussed for modalities of upcoming joint activities under the project.

The team aims to hold the project inception meeting in August 2017 where the research methodology and project implementation plan will be presented for feedback. The development of hydro-glacial and system optimization models will kick off in line with the approval of the research methodology and with collaboration of the project partners. The methodology was developed in consultation with the USG partner who has extensive experience in modeling transboundary river basins. The exercise is expected to run until the end of this year and will culminate in a research paper on modeling methodology. The modeling component is one of the key scientific activities under this project which will feed into subsequent public policy engagement. An exchange visit of Afghan stakeholders to Pakistan slated for February 2018 is being assessed; however it remains contingent on geopolitical situation between the countries. In this regard, discussions with Prof. Eqrar (the Afghanistan partner) are ongoing to determine the feasibility and, if required, alternative options.

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