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9 Jul 2021 | SERVIR-HKH

Monitoring cryosphere resources in Afghanistan

A separate glacier and snow research section has now been established within the National Water Resource Regulation Authority

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Monitoring cryosphere resources in Afghanistan

Despite the significant contributions of glaciers and glacial lakes to river flows and water security in Afghanistan, there is very little information on their status and changes in these cryosphere resources. This is mostly because of the challenging topography, the paucity of fieldwork, limited institutional capacity, and geopolitical restrictions.

Our SERVIR-HKH Initiative worked closely with the General Directorate of Water Resources (GDWR) of the National Water Affairs Regulation Authority (NWARA) (previously Water Resource Department of the Ministry of Energy and Water) to build the capacity of NWARA professionals on the use of a glacier and glacial lake monitoring system to generate detailed information on past and present scenarios of glaciers and glacial lakes in the country. The study took a co-development approach, where NWARA formed a team of six professionals, including two nominated professional staff from the authority and four research associates supported by SERVIR-HKH. The team successfully prepared the database and studied the periodic changes in glaciers and glacial lakes. The database was disseminated during a joint workshop at NWARA, Kabul, and has been made accessible through the Mountain GeoPortal and the Regional Database System.

This is a first-of-its-kind database and analysis of glaciers and glacial lakes in the country generated by consistent and systematic sources and methods. This can help us understand future scenarios regarding water availability and potential glacial hazards. Ultimately, this will support water resources and risk management in the country. In addition, the team has been involved in rapid assessment of the 2018 Panjshir glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) in Afghanistan. The detailed investigation of the GLOF was led by our team using remote sensing, and the field visit and analysis were led by NWARA. A detailed report has been prepared and submitted to NWARA, the first systematic record of a GLOF in Afghanistan. The database of glaciers has also been used for selecting the Pir Yakh Glacier in the Panjshir Valley as a benchmark glacier for long-term field-based monitoring.

Apart from information generation and analysis, the project also strengthened cooperation and collaboration with local partners and enhanced their knowledge on mapping and monitoring of glaciers and glacial lakes. A regular monitoring system is now in place with the establishment of a separate glacier and snow research section within NWARA.

The capacity development and preparation of glacier and glacial lakes databases and research reports is one of the most successful endeavours in SERVIR-HKH’s institutional capacity-building initiative.
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