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Cablegate: Afghan Government's High Hopes for Hydropower

DE RUEHBUL #2688/01 2480512
P 050512Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958 N/A
SUBJECT: Afghan Government's High Hopes for Hydropower

REF: A. Kabul 2363 B. Kabul 561

1. (SBU) Summary: At the August 5 inauguration of a USAID-funded
diesel power plant in Kabul, President Karzai and Minister of Energy
and Water Ismail Khan focused on large-scale water projects as the
key to Afghanistan's energy future. To implement its national
hydropower strategy, AfghanistanQs government will need to
strengthen its capacity in transboundary water rights diplomacy and
improve upon existing water rights treaties with its neighbors.
USAID plans to fund technical experts to support the Afghan
governmentQs efforts to build both planning and negotiating capacity
on key transboundary riparian issues. End summary.

2. (U) At the August 5 inauguration of a USAID-funded diesel power
plant, President Karzai and Minister of Energy and Water Ismail Khan
spoke at length about their hopes for hydropower. The topic had
also gained considerable focus during the presidential election
campaigns: candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
both cited hydropower as critical to Afghanistan's economic
development future during a debate held in Kabul on August 10 (ref

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3. (U) Minister of Energy and Water Khan laid out his vision for
Afghanistan's power future. "Afghanistan must never rely on
imports," he said, adding that in 10 to 15 years Afghanistan could
harvest enough potential hydro resources to meet all domestic needs.
Referring to USAIDQs support to develop the Sheberghan gas fields
in Jawzjan province, Khan then clarified, "some of my colleagues are
interested in gas, but I want to emphasize hydro." Recognizing the
dual role dams play in providing power and agricultural irrigation,
Khan concluded: "Afghanistan has a lot of resources, but we can't
resolve our problems until we have enough water. Once we have
water, no one will grow poppies, no one will fight, no one will
leave Afghanistan [for work]...water will resolve all problems in

4. (SBU) Although agreeing that AfghanistanQs water endowment would
be sufficient with appropriately developed infrastructure, President
KarzaiQs remarks were more measured. He called for power "whether
hydro or from generators," and added that Afghanistan could someday
be an energy exporter. Note: Neither official commented on the
social and environmental issues that accompany large-scale hydro
construction. Officials at the Afghan National Environmental
Protection Agency admit the agency does not have the resources or
skills-base to address current problems, let alone access the
complex environmental impacts of large dams. End note.

5. (SBU) Other Afghan officials and working-level ministry contacts
increasingly call for donors to fund major hydropower projects to
power Afghanistan. Existing hydropower is Afghanistan's cheapest
source of electricity (at less than five cents per kWh, it is half
the price of imports and one-fifth the cost of energy from a
high-efficiency diesel power plant.) By Afghan Energy Information
Center estimates, the country gets over 40 percent of its energy
from hydropower (42.3 percent in the first seven months of 2009,
down from 49 percent in 2006 as imports increased to meet growing
demand.) The Afghan government has identified a number of locations
as potential sites for new hydropower dams and the Afghan National
Development Strategy (ANDS) prioritizes four key hydropower
infrastructure projects: Kokcha-e-Ulia (1,900MW) and Kokcha-e-Sofla
(100MW) in Badakhshan, Baghdara (210MW) in Baghlan, and Sorobi II
(180MW) in Kabul province. Donors have been reluctant to start
large hydropower projects, however, in the absence of workable
water-use treaties or agreements with downstream neighbors.

6. (U) USAID, working with the Army Corps of Engineers, is assessing
the viability of multipurpose dams (irrigation/power/potable water).
Currently, USAID is rehabilitating the Darunta hydropower plant in
Nangarhar province (11MW to be completed by early 2010) and the
Kajaki hydropower plant on the Helmand River. Kajaki consists of
three turbines: Unit 1 (16.6MW) has been completed and is providing
power to the grid, Unit 2 (18.5MW) installation has been suspended
after the Chinese subcontractor left the country, and Unit 3
(16.5MW) is scheduled for completion during fall 2009. The
transmission line from Kajaki into the South East Power System
(SEPS) can transmit only 24MW and will need to be upgraded before
the units can provide their full power load to the grid. Insurgent
activities in the area have caused significant delays and increased
construction costs.

7. (SBU) USAID and the Army Corps of Engineers are also providing
technical support to the Secretariat of the Supreme Council on Water
Management. The U.S. team also participates in a Water Sector
Donors Group, which brings together interested governments, private
groups, and organizations to work with the GIRoA on transboundary
water issues. To help build the Afghan government's capacity, USAID
is working to place two international advisors on transboundary
riparian rights negotiations with the Ministry of Energy and Water
and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


KABUL 00002688 002 OF 002

8. (SBU) Afghan government interest in hydropower is unlikely to

change regardless of the results of the elections and whether
Minister Khan keeps his portfolio. International donors will need
to address officials' growing expectations for the resource. As
high-level officials increasingly make public statements about
Afghanistan's need for major dams, the Afghan government will need
more help in addressing the concerns of its neighbors while managing
the expectations of the Afghan populace. Although any major
hydrologic project will require Afghanistan to launch negotiations
with its neighbors, contacts in the palace and the Ministry of
Energy and Water are adamant that they are "not ready to touch water
questions" with Afghanistan's neighbors. The USG and the donor
community will need to help the Afghan government build its capacity
to take on negotiations with its neighbors as part of moving ahead
with any major water projects.


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