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Afghanistan launches its first comprehensive glacier database

Description

The monitoring of glaciers and glacial lakes in Afghanistan is at a nascent stage. While a few studies on glaciers in Afghanistan based on topographic maps do exist, analysing glacier outlines from such maps is difficult and has its fair share of uncertainties.

A glacier study carried out by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW) in Afghanistan, under ICIMOD’s SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) initiative, provides information on the status of glaciers in the country. The glacier database, the first of its kind, is the culmination of a study carried out by researchers at ICIMOD and MEW using satellite imagery. It provides information on the decadal change of glaciers in Afghanistan since 1990 and their status in 2015. The study indicates that the number of glaciers and the total area they occupy decreased between 1990 and 2010, as well as in 2015. In 25 years (1990–2015), Afghanistan lost 394 km 2 (13.4%) of its total glacier area.

ICIMOD has also developed a glacier dynamics application for Afghanistan that provides an interactive visualisation of the database online. It was launched at a dissemination workshop organized at the MEW office in Kabul on 2 July 2018.

Glaciers are natural renewable solid reservoirs of freshwater and the only source of freshwater in the high mountains during the dry season. They are considered one of the best indicators of climate variation and change. Understanding trends in glacier change helps predict water availability, glacial hazards, and other impacts of climate change.

Engineer Daud Qazizada, Deputy Minister for Water, underscored the importance of such studies in helping understand the impacts of climate change at regional and international scales. He recommended continued research on Afghan glaciers for scientific and policy inputs and to reduce the risk of water-induced disasters. The minister commended ICIMOD for the achievement and appreciated the cooperation and technical support received.

The data generated from the study can be utilized in modeling availability of water resources, glacial hazards, and impacts of climate change in Afghanistan. ICIMOD’s theme leader of geospatial solutions, Mir Martin, said, “The data generated by the current study needs to be validated through field-work in certain glaciers in Afghanistan.” He added that the study can be extended to include glacier thickness and volume estimation, and glacier mass balance.

Mohammad Rafi Qazizada, Director General, Natural Resource Management, Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock and ICIMOD board member, launched the glacier dynamics application at the event. He commended ICIMOD and the SERVIR-HKH team in particular for the numerous activities carried out—user consultation meetings on a regional drought monitoring system, a watershed characterization process, a rangeland monitoring support system, and a training workshop on the development of the national land cover monitoring system for Afghanistan.

Panellists from ICIMOD, Kabul University, and the Ministry of Energy and Water discussed research on glacial change in Afghanistan and future directions during a panel discussion session. The panel recognized that the online application will facilitate data sharing and provide information on hydrological regimes in the region. The panellists also called for joint efforts by academic and sectoral institutions for integrated water resource management. It also recommended that studies based on remote sensing be augmented with field based observations and a network of automated weather stations.

Birendra Bajracharya, Regional Programme Manager, MENRIS and Chief of Party for SERVIR-HKH, said that a number of on-the-job trainings for MEW staff had ensured that MEW could conduct such studies on their own in the future. He thanked the Ministry and the Water Resources Directorate in particular, for their proactive role in ensuring that other Afghan colleagues besides MEW staff were also part of the knowledge transfer. Referring to the glacier dynamics application he said, “ICIMOD’s interest is in providing access to data. Anyone interested in glacier data can readily access them through this application. We are grateful to MEW for their supportive role and their willingness to collaborate with us.”

The Ministry concluded the workshop by awarding certificates to team members from MEW and ICIMOD for their role in strengthening water resources management in Afghanistan.

ICIMOD’s report on the status of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), published in 2011, provides the first comprehensive information on the status of glaciers in the HKH, including information on glaciers in Afghanistan.

This glacier database and application for Afghanistan was developed under the SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) initiative at ICIMOD.

SERVIR-HKH provides technical assistance to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) by improving the use of technology in water resources, agricultural water use, and irrigation management and decision making. Part of the larger global SERVIR programme—a joint development initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—SERVIR-HKH has specific priorities related to the thematic areas of agriculture and food security; land cover, land use and ecosystems; water resources and hydro climatic disasters; and, weather and climate services.

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Mohammad Rafi Qazizada—Director General, Natural Resource Management, Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock, and ICIMOD board member—launches the glacier dynamics application along with delegates from other institutions. (Photo: Utsav Maden/ICIMOD)

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Daud Qazizada, Deputy Minister for Water, commended ICIMOD for the achievements and appreciated the cooperation and technical support received. (Photo: Utsav Maden/ICIMOD)

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Mir Matin, Theme Leader, Geospatial Solutions, ICIMOD, provides an overview of the glacier mapping process and development of the glacier dynamics application (Photo: Utsav Maden/ICIMOD)

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The dissemination workshop organised at the Ministry brought together representatives from different government agencies, universities, development agencies, and nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan.

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Panellists from ICIMOD, Kabul University, and MEW discuss glacier research in Afghanistan.

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Sudan Bikash Maharjan, Remote Sensing Analyst, Cryosphere, ICIMOD, provides an overview of the glacier dynamics application

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Birendra Bajracharya, Regional Programme Manager, MENRIS and Chief of Party for SERVIR-HKH, accepting a certificate of appreciation from the Afghan Ministry of Energy and Water.

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Research assistants from MEW pose for a photograph with their certificates—received from the Ministry of Energy and Resources—with Sudan Bikash Maharjan, Remote Sensing Analyst, Cryosphere, ICIMOD (Photo: Utsav Maden/ICIMOD)