From Deadly Floodplain To Picnic Area In Northern Afghanistan

In a sweeping valley of Khulm district near Mazar-e-Sharif, spring flooding was an annual problem for local communities until a joint WFP and FAO watershed management project made the area safe and turned the rainwater into an asset.

The people of Khulm have been fortunate by Afghan standards – their district has historically been fairly peaceful, without the prolonged fighting that characterizes many parts of the country. But one destabilizing factor has been a constant bane for the community of 70,000: every spring, heavy floods would wash away crops and houses, often claiming many lives as well.

Abdul Khaliq, a village elder and head of the Forest Management Committee which oversees the watershed project, explains: “The water used to wash right through the villages. So many people lost their lives. We used to call this flood passage the “bloody passage” because of all the deaths it caused.”

Abdul Khaliq

Abdul Khaliq heads the committee in charge of managing the project. The valley went from being a threat to residents, to a good source of income.
Photo: WFP/Silke Buhr

The community approached WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) requesting assistance. WFP and FAO designed a watershed project together, and in 2011 the Forest Management Committee was established, with members from the local community and the implementing partner, the Modern Agriculture Animal Husbandry Organisation (MAAO), in order to oversee the project and ensure its sustainability. The project takes a multi-pronged approach to tackling the problem. Terraces on the hillside as well as stone barriers (check dams and gabions) along the flood passages help slow the force of water and conserve soil.

Three dams harvest the rain and flood water and two water reservoirs feed a drip irrigation system for the trees on the project site. More than 150 hectares of land have been planted with pistachios and other trees, increasing water infiltration and preventing soil erosion.

“As head of the Forest Management Committee, it’s my responsibility to monitor progress and manage the workforce,” explains Abdul Khaliq. WFP provided food rations to labourers working on the project. “The food is very important to this poor, rural community”.

In the spring of 2013, when many people in neighbouring districts and even in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif were affected by seasonal floods, Khulm was spared. Water gathered behind the dams, but it didn’t reach the villages. Ismail Ghareeq, the WFP field monitor who oversees the project from WFP’s side, is proud: “This is considered one of the best watershed management projects in Afghanistan. We get so many visitors who want to see how it’s done – from students of agriculture from all over the country, all the way up to the Minister of Agriculture himself!”. The project is considered a success not just because it secures the villages against floods, but also because it has become a source of income for residents as a leisure spot.

Abdul Khaliq is optimistic about the future of the project. “We will continue protecting this project as an asset of our community. It’s vital for our environment and for our livelihood. We expect that this place will become a leisure area where people relax and spend their vacations with friends and families.”

group of men standing on desert ground

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) Mohammad Asef Rahimi (centre, black jacket) together with local government officials, visiting the Khulm watershed management project in April 2013. Photo: MAAO/Naser Qadree