Research Matters

Research Matters

Karez of Afghanistan

For thousands of years, communities in Afghanistan have depended upon ingenious systems called karez to move water for drinking and irrigation. Now, a team of KU researchers advising the U.S. Army on preservation of karez systems.

Episode #108

2 minutes (3.1 MB) | Download mp3


Researchers safeguard Afghanistan’s ancient water systems. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I’m Brendan Lynch.

For millennia, communities in Afghanistan have depended upon ingenious systems called karez to move water for drinking and irrigation. Rolfe Mandel, professor of anthropology, is part of a team of KU researchers advising the US army on preservation of karez systems.

Mandel: A karez is an underground tunnel that transports water from the mountainous regions where there’s more abundant water. The karez then transport that water underground which is efficient because it’s an arid environment with lots of evaporation. It distributes that water to villages and communities further down slope where they bring that water to the surface into canals.

Looking at karez systems from the perspective of the environment, culture and history, the research group is producing digital terrain models to more fully understand the extent of karez systems. John Hoopes, associate professor of anthropology, is part of the KU team.

Hoopes: They’re one of the oldest technologies on the planet for collecting and distributing water. In 700 B.C., there are written cuneiform documents describing the construction of these, and they’re still being constructed today.

But many of the thousands of karez in Afghanistan are threatened by climate change, plummeting water levels and the country’s ongoing war. Demographic changes also play a roll says Mandel.

Mandel: They have to constantly be maintained,” said Mandel. “They’re not lined with concrete for the most part. Sediment is always sloughing off the walls of the underground tunnels. But what you’re seeing is that there are fewer and fewer people who are familiar with how to maintain them. Mostly, the older generation seems to be familiar with their construction and maintenance.”

For more on preserving the karez of Afghanistan, log on to Research Matters dot KU dot EDU. For the University of Kansas, I’m Brendan Lynch.

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KU researchers safeguard Afghanistan's ancient water systems

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