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FEATURE STORY

Irrigation Canal Unites Two Communities

February 10, 2014

Two village community development councils voted to build this canal, benefiting farmers on both sides. 

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Farmers from two villages by Panjshir River are looking forward to doubling their production after the completion of a new irrigation canal.
  • The community development councils in both villages decided to collaborate on the mutually beneficial irrigation project, which received funding from the National Solidarity Project (NSP).
  • The NSP, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and supported by the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), encourages local governance and development through small-scale infrastructure initiatives.

UNABA DISTRICT, Panjshir Province – On a stretch of land beside the Panjshir River, two villages work with a single purpose. Together, villagers dig trenches, haul rocks, pour concrete, and carefully shape a narrow irrigation canal that will soon wind about 750 meters between the two Afghan communities, bringing water to fields tended by about 1,300 families.

From each village, of Unaba and Deh Meina in the Unaba district of Panjshir province, farmers have given up valuable riverside plots so that they and their neighbors can all benefit from the new irrigation project called Dhamm Canal. The improved water supply will mean farmers should be able to double production from their fields of wheat, corn, fruit, and other crops, says Najibullah Alimi, head of Deh Meina’s community development council (CDC).

Deh Meina’s council of 10 men and 10 women was created in 2012 under the auspices of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development’s National Solidarity Project (NSP). Supported by the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), the NSP mobilizes communities to run transparent elections and create CDCs, much like traditional Afghan shuras (councils). It is now estimated about 22,490 CDCs representing some 35,200 villages have been created under the NSP.

Once established, CDCs are eligible to apply for funding for a range of infrastructure and service projects, including access to power, roads, drinking and irrigation water, improved sanitation, bridges, and schools.

In the villages of Deh Meina and Unaba, the CDCs both voted for an irrigation canal, then approached each other with the idea of a joint project, says Mohammad Noor Ranjbar, an engineer and head of Unaba’s CDC. The two communities sit next to each other on the Panjshir River. The new canal first crosses Deh Meina property and ends at Unaba.

The two communities each received about $60,000 funding for construction of their half of the canal. Every household also contributed about AFN400, says Ranjbar. “We all recognized that our first priority should be irrigation because when our level of income goes higher, then we can all have a better future,” says Ranjbar, who works in a government office to supplement his farm income and support three children.

“We will no longer have to tell our sons and daughters to work with us, but we can send them to school,” agrees Alimi, who has 10 children. “And people in our villages will also stop fighting with each other.”

Open Quotes

This new canal will help us a lot. It is 100 percent good; it will give us all energy, just like the sun. Close Quotes

Ghulam Hazrat
Farmer

Community conflict over water resolved

Community conflict was a big problem because farmers jealously guarded their own water supplies, while also sharing access to makeshift irrigation canals, says Alimi.

“People sometimes waited 10 to 12 days before they could take their share of the water and they would fight with each other. Everyone was always angry.”

Farmer Mohammad Panjshiri, 32, says his wheat would wither and die before he could irrigate because his 10 jeribs (2 hectares) of land was at the tail end of the old canal system. Panjshiri currently works as a tailor to support five children. “Now I am hoping to make three times more income from my land when the water comes,” he says.

Ghulam Hazrat, 80, says he paid to have a well dug on his land so he could properly water his orchards of pomegranate, apples, figs, grapes, almonds, and walnuts. He also has to buy diesel for a generator to pump the well water out to his fields. “The old canals were of little use. You had to wait so long for your turn, or they would get blocked with mud and debris sometimes for 10 or 20 days until we could clear them. We were having big losses with our crops,” recalls Hazrat.

Times were tough but nothing compared to the starvation and destruction that people also suffered during 30 years of war, adds Hazrat, who supports 21 children and two wives.

“I remember one day when so many airplanes came to bomb our fields in Panjshir that we had to hide ourselves in mountain caves. Then, people were sometimes eating plants or whatever they could find,” Hazrat says. “Now, this new canal will help us a lot. It is 100 percent good; it will give us all energy, just like the sun.”

Farmer Habib Rahmat, 35, says he will no longer have to carry water by the bucket load to irrigate his one and a half jeribs (0.3 hectares) of wheat and fruit orchard. He and his four children would often shoulder buckets back and forth for 10 hours at a time to keep their crops watered. “This canal is an incredible gift to us all,” says Rahmat.

Abdul Sidiq, 34, is currently earning about $8 a day laboring on the new canal. The construction money is helping to support his family of four, but Sidiq also looks forward to increased income from his 10 jeribs (2 hectares) of farm land.