When the Water Runs Out: The Rise (and Inevitable Fall) of the Deserts of Southwest Afghanistan and its Impact on Migration, Poppy and Stability

David Mansfield
Content Type
Research Paper
Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU)
There are up to 1.4 million people in southwestern Afghanistan whose livelihoods are under threat. These people reside in the former desert areas of Farah, Nimroz, Helmand and Kandahar. In the 1990s, this region was largely barren uninhabited land, apart from the valley of Khash Rud in Nimruz and the lower part of Marjah. Drawing on fieldwork conducted over a 10-year period, and using high-resolution remote imagery, this paper charts the processes that led to the encroachment, settlement and transformation of the deserts of the southwest. It documents how patterns of migration to these areas varied over time and by location, and details how these once barren landscapes were transformed into areas of permanent settlement. The paper then provides evidence of how this rapid transformation has impacted the population that reside there, and outlines the threats to the long-term viability of their livelihoods. Finally, the paper recommends solutions to the pressures on this population, not just in addressing the factors that drive migration to these former desert areas, but also interventions that might ease the economic, social and environmental challenges that those living there currently face, potentially preventing a massive displacement of people within Afghanistan, to neighbouring countries and possibly further afield.
Environment, Migration, Natural Resources, Water, Ecology
Political Geography
Afghanistan, South Asia