Food was on the mind this week, with reports from several continents on how issues of agriculture and land tenure impact security.
Wired’s Danger Room continues to follow U.S. Army Agribusiness Development Teams (ADTs), which are getting their hands dirty in Afghanistan helping local farmers build sustainable livelihoods. Leveraging years of experience in the American Midwest, National Guardsmen are traveling around north-central Afghanistan, teaching locals about the entire agricultural cycle, from crop selection to planting techniques and marketing strategies. "The ADT's efforts as well as stopping crop eradication and increasing interdiction are all part of an important policy shift by the U.S. government," according to Richard Holbrooke. Secure food supplies and surpluses will help stabilize economic and political conditions, but many hurdles remain.
The Stimson Center held an event yesterday called “Water and Peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” at which Dr. Daanish Mustafa, a geographer at King's College, London, outlined the intricate linkages between water resources and regional stability. According to Mustafa, who has conducted extensive field research in Baluchistan and southern Afghanistan, traditions surrounding access to water form the glue that has held local communities together for centuries. Recent events, however, have begun to unravel social structures with second and third order effects on security.
At the heart of the matter is the traditional karez (also qanat) irrigation system. The ancient technique involves allowing natural water pressure to pump water horizontally underneath agricultural fields through hand-constructed underground channels. In communities throughout southern Afghanistan and Baluchistan, deeply engrained cultural norms dictate access to water and are enforced by mirabs, or water masters. Revered by their communities, mirabs have customarily ensured equity in water distribution and conscientious maintenance of the system’s entire length. For a karez system to remain viable, all stakeholders must use it responsibly.
The advent of tube-wells has disrupted the traditional order. Tube-wells drill directly down to the water table (sometimes 500 feet or more below the surface), sucking up the available water. Over time, though, they draw the water table down farther and farther, requiring deeper and deeper drilling. Tube-wells, then, have the potential to lower water tables enough so that karez systems are rendered inoperable, affecting
Mutually inquisitive, the soldier-bovine pair pictured above appears to be getting better acquainted. Writ large, the interaction represents the increasing focus on agriculture (and broader economic stability and development) as critical to U.S. military strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. With a reinvigorated appreciation for the relationships among agricultural, economic, and political stability, American troops have been assisting local farmers with veterinary medicine and agricultural marketing. Unseasonable drought conditions in Iraq and pressures to continue growing poppies in Afghanistan, however, ensure that stabilizing those countries’ legitimate agriculture industries will be anything but easy.
Photo: A cow nuzzles up to Staff Sgt. Chad Ryan in East Anbar province, northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. Courtesy of Staff Sgt. J.B. Jaso, III and the U.S. Department of Defense.
“If we don't have water, then we don't have the ability to perform,” said Tad Davis, the U.S. Army's deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and occupational health, at an October 2008 Reuters Global Environment Summit, emphasizing the importance of water in U.S. military operations. Like fuel, without sufficient supplies of water we would be unable to sustain protracted military campaigns like we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Somebody recently said water's the new oil and there's a lot to be said for that," said Davis. And if we talk about water in the context that we talk about fuel as a logistics issue, then perhaps there is some truth to that statement. Operational fuel use has long topped the list of logistical concerns for military planners. The military requires enormous supplies of fuel in order to run its fleets of armored personnel carriers, tanks, humvees, helicopters, and planes, and to power forward operating bases (FOBs).
Big news started early in the week for the U.S. Army on Monday, when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced his plan to grow the branch by 22,000 troops to a total standing force of 569,000. Gates’s call comes in response to prolonged strain on forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and though force structure per se doesn’t fall directly under the purview of the Natural Security Program, the announcement set the tone for the days to follow.
The New York Times also provided a look at DOD’s efforts to cut energy demand. In the article, Alan Shaffer, DOD principal deputy director for defense research and engineering, reported that the Army’s fuel use increased more than tenfold as it transitioned to wartime operations after 2001. Thus far, the “greening” of the U.S. military has mostly been an exercise in self-imposed pragmatism—lower energy costs free up much-needed funds and fewer fuel convoys reduce some in-theater vulnerabilities.
But despite ongoing efforts to trim energy consumption, the Armed Forces Press Service reported this week that Army units in Afghanistan are still facing perilous conditions supplying forward operating bases with food and energy, especially as combat operations intensify in Helmand province. The 286th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, for example, must increase supply volumes even as hazardous conditions persist.
“When it comes to the stability of one of the world's most volatile regions, it's the fate of the Himalayan glaciers that should be keeping us awake at night,” warns Stephan Faris in Foreign Policy, on the specter of Pakistan unraveling as natural resource consumption and climate change take their toll on this withering nuclear club member.
The Himalayan glaciers are the primary source of the Indus River and its six tributaries that flow through Kashmir to form freshwater supplies for millions of Indians and Pakistanis. To date, Pakistan and India have amicably governed the shared Indus waters under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which established a governing body – the Permanent Indus Basin Commission – to adjudicate grievances associated with water management between the two rival states. For many, governing the Indus waters has been a hallmark example of how resource issues can act as an opportunity for peace and engagement rather than as the basis for conflict. But, as Faris writes, “the treaty's success depends on the maintenance of a status quo that will be disrupted as the world warms.”
This week’s news roundup takes us to U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the government is beginning to be forced to deal with issues related to its natural resources as it prepares to exert full control over the country. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s ravaged land is the subject of several positive developments.
In Iraq, Water Resources Minister Abdul-Latif Jamal Rasheed warned that his country faces a potential “agricultural disaster” over the summer due to water shortages. Iraq is in the midst of a drought, and has been for some time now. The other factor in Iraq’s water woes is their upriver neighbor – Turkey – which has numerous dams along the Euphrates River.
Last week, we featured a Washington Post article on the critical task of revitalizing Afghanistan’s agricultural economy. Well, the battle continues, and McClatchy reports that the Missouri National Guard’s Agri-Business Development Team is at the forefront. But the challenge is not just overcoming the limitations of soil chemistry and watershed dynamics, important as they are. Indeed, the program also advises Afghanistan’s farmers on what crops are saleable and develops strategies for storing and refrigerating those goods on their way to the marketplace. Stay posted to the Natural Security Blog as we keep you posted on how land use shapes the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
As our own Sharon Burke wrote earlier this month in her Natural Security concept paper:
President Obama has stated repeatedly that peace in Afghanistan will be contingent on economic, civic, and political development as much as military successes. A 2009 UNEP report found, however, that most of Afghanistan’s natural resources are severely degraded and that any recovery would depend on restoration of these resources. Achieving U.S. goals in the region may well depend on our ability to tie natural resources into national security.
Today’s Washington Post features a great article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran beginning on page A1 that provides depth to the role of land use issues in both promoting and slowing security-building efforts in Afghanistan. The reporter also sheds some light on the kinds of bureaucratic wrangling that we might expect more of as the administration shifts additional responsibilities for national security to civilian agencies and increases focus on civilian functions.