Afghan energy crisis
With a nationwide energy crisis, the people of Afghanistan are in misery as currency devaluation bites the dust
The ambitious 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at a historic UN Summit — has hit a roadblock due to the nationwide energy crisis in land-locked Afghanistan, caused by the decision to cut off of the power supply by its northern neighbour Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan demands a cent per cent increase in the export price of energy. Afghan federal authorities contest the claim as a breach of the inked agreement, meaning that the war-ravaged country is being blackmailed by a neighbour.
The SDGs, also known as Global Goals, are a construct on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The point is to launch an all-out attack on all forms of poverty. And thus, the new goals are unique in as much as they aim at the upliftment of the poor alongside strategies that would build economic growth and address a broad range of social needs including education, health, social protection and job opportunities, while tackling Climate Change and environmental protection. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA) is committed to attaining the SDGs. The crisis aggravates due to a devaluation of the national currency, Afghani (AFN), as the victims are the poor and dispossessed that are vulnerable to the lure of 'Political Islam' via Taliban, IS, and the like.
The availability of energy is an essential prerequisite for meeting SDGs. Needless to stress that Afghanistan depends mostly on energy imported from Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. According to Da Afghanistan Breshna Shirkat, an independent and autonomous company, the indigenous production of electricity varies between 280 and 320 megawatts, while the country imports 1,000 MW of power to meet the minimum electricity demand. The irony is that Afghanistan is very rich in natural resources, enough to generate at least 4,000 MW of power while its requirement is estimated to be at 2,000 MW, according to the Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE) and the country has the potential to generate 318,000 MW of power. This estimation is the sum of hydel, solar, and natural gas potential, mainly hydel. But exploiting hydroelectric potentials is a hard nut to crack. Afghanistan faces irritants from all its neighbours except India. Iranian President Rouhani hinted at preventing the construction of water dams in Afghanistan. Pakistan too has been creating similar trouble. The eastern neighbour shares nine rivers with the country.
Hydel potentials aside, Afghanistan possesses resources for non-renewables like coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium. Coal reserves, located between Badakhshan and Herat provinces are confirmed, roughly estimated at 100-400 million tonnes. Petroleum and natural deposits in northwest Afghanistan are also proven, especially in Jawzan and Sar-i-Pul. Solar power generation, too, is possible, considering the annual average solar insolation of at least 300 days of bright sunshine every year. High wind velocity averaging 20 kmph in the Herat province makes it favourable for wind energy generation. Some 20 out of 34 provinces are not connected to the power grid network and as a result, the cost of production and commercial transaction goes up, forcing subsidy budget upward, not to speak of environmental pollution.
Generating hydropower is currently the best available option. The Kabul, Helmand, Amu, Panj, Farah and Murghab rivers have several locations, feasible for constructing hydropower dams, thanks to the mountainous topography. The decades-long war, combined with the government's myopia and lack of initiatives, stood in the way of such essentially beneficial energy development goals. The GoIRA ignored the suggestion from the Afghan development economists and planners, mostly those associated with reputed international bodies, that dependence on energy imports should be slashed on a top priority basis. The implementation of short-term, medium-term and most importantly long-term power generation projects is desperately needed to address the issue.
Da Afghanistan Bank in a recent assessment of the current economic crisis linked the ongoing political uncertainty to the declining currency. Between 2011 and 2017 it had lost its value against the US dollar by over 40 per cent. The most affected due to the devalued Afghani are the economically weaker sections, who have little influence over their earnings. When prices increase as result of devaluation, the earnings of the poor fall, while their spending on necessary items increases. Still fresh in memory is the unprecedented devaluation of the Afghan currency in December 2013, which created a social tremor as consumers felt the heat of sharply rising prices of imported essential commodities.
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