After three decades of war and political upheavals, Afghanistan’s agricultural sector was in shambles. Whereas the vast majority of Afghans depend on agriculture for a living, only about 10 percent of the country’s harsh and arid terrain is arable. Nearly all of it requires irrigation. What is worse, most of the country’s basic irrigation infrastructure was damaged during the conflict years, with only about one-third still intact. Even where systems were operational, water supplies were unreliable, with systems operating at a mere 25 percent efficiency compared to the norm for irrigation efficiency in the region of 40 to 60 percent. As a result, the country and its rural inhabitants were caught in a vicious cycle — productivity and incomes remained low, while food insecurity and rural poverty loomed large. In recent years, the situation has grown worse due to frequent droughts.
The IDA-financed Emergency Irrigation Rehabilitation Project was launched in 2004 to rehabilitate and restore Afghanistan’s irrigation systems. The project focused on the country’s six major river basins in the regions of Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, Kunduz, and Mazar-e-Sharif. Communities identified the key constraints then appointed traditional water managers, or mirabs, to distribute the water equitably in accordance with water shares that farmers had enjoyed in the past. Farmers provided in-kind labor as a way to earn income. Finally, once the irrigation systems were rehabilitated, farmers and mirabs were trained to operate and maintain them.
Despite numerous challenges, particularly the lack of security and the government’s low capacity, the project helped rehabilitate multiple irrigation systems, benefiting over 600,000 households in all 34 provinces of the country. The IDA project has introduced innovative way of supervising schemes in insecure areas by, for example, using geo-referenced photos and videos to monitor and report progress.
- Regular water boosted yields. Irrigation boosted yields of staple crops of wheat, maize, and rice, as well as of onions, melons, and watermelons.
- Government capacity increased. The project also made a substantial contribution to building capacity within Afghanistan’s Ministry of Energy and Water through hands-on training, particularly in identifying, designing, preparing, and implementing irrigation rehabilitation schemes.
- Land rehabilitated by rehabilitated facilities. Irrigation facilities serving 618,000 hectares of irrigated areas have been rehabilitated. This has restored irrigation supplies to a previously dry area of 122,000 hectares.
- Rehab schemes spread countrywide. So far rehabilitation of 600 small, medium, and large irrigation schemes has been completed in various parts of the country.
- Hydro stations installed. So far 98 hydrological stations have been installed in different locations on the 5 main river basins.
The Emergency Irrigation Rehabilitation Project was launched in 2004 with an IDA contribution of US$40 million. Three additional IDA grants amounting to a total of US$86.5 million have subsequently supported the continuation of the project. Impressed by project achievements, the Government of Afghanistan contributed another US$6.0 million to expand the project.
Additional IDA financing of US$33.5 million, approved in May 2009, will help rehabilitate 85 medium and 8 large irrigation schemes. It will also expand the country’s hydro-meteorological facilities to improve the planning, management, and development of the country’s water resources. Moreover, it aims to equip the Government to forecast floods and droughts better.