Large artificial river projects: Egypt and Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the Taliban are building the Qosh Tepa Canal – ultimately the largest artificial river in the Asia desert. It is 285 km long, approx. 100 m wide and worth USD 500 million. The project will drain 20% of water from the Amu Darya River to the dry plains of northern Afghanistan. The canal could change the lives of local people who have suffered from food shortages, 40 years of war, three consecutive years of severe drought and climate change. Once the canal is completed, it will be possible to irrigate 550,000 hectares of desert, increasing Afghanistan’s arable land by ⅓ and making the country food self-sufficient for the first time since the 1980s.

The construction of the canal raises concerns in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which indicate that the limited flow in the Amu Darya will negatively affect, among others, their cotton fields. In 2019, the World Resources Institute considered Turkmenistan among the 17 countries in the world with “exceptionally high” water scarcity. Uzbekistan and Afghanistan were in the next highest category. Central Asia depends on rivers flowing from the mountains, where climate change depletes glacial resources.

Egypt is also digging up the desert to create the largest artificial river in the northwest of the country, next to the El Dabaa nuclear power plant, and cultivating almost a million additional hectares as part of the “New Delta” project. Three irrigation canals are designed to transport water to the desert areas, which are more than 100 m above the level of the Nile. In total, the canals will be over 220 km long.

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