The drought in this area has intensified in the past few years. Snow and rain are the common sources of drinking water and irrigation water for the area but in recent years these have grown less frequent and drought is affecting people here. This area even had snow covering the mountains in the summer, which was a source of water for agricultural land, but this has reduced in recent years.
Every year at spring-time, heavy rains cause flash flooding and landslides. Shahi villagers had only one irrigation canal which was destroyed by floods and landslides during the spring season. They lost 15% of their agricultural production due to these hazards and the inability to get irrigation water to their crops in time. 144 families in this village were suffering from this problem as they hadn’t any other way to irrigate their cultivated land.
The community are poor and rely completely on agriculture for their source of income and it is very hard for them to pay for the repair and reconstruction of the irrigation canal. This is an additional financial burden on their household income, even though there is an understanding that it is those who have agricultural land who are responsible for contributing the financial support to maintain the canal.
Vulnerable people’s coping mechanisms
Drought in this area has led to the village farmer’s dependence on the irrigation canal. The farmers and their families struggle to pay for the canal cleaning and the lack of income directly affects how much food they can buy to feed themselves. Children’s nutrition gets affected due to lack of enough food. In Qambar Zawar’s words, “We were collecting some money every year for reconstruction of this canal. Since our villagers are poor people and have lots of economical problems, paying that amount of money was very hard for them.”
With the loss of the irrigation canal, 10 percentage of men migrated to the city to look for a job because their harvest was not enough to support the needs of their families. Women, children, the elderly and the disabled suffered from the lack of food due to a reduced household income.
The roads get destroyed by the high intensity of the floods which build up momentum and have large stones that crash against road surfaces and leave wreckage behind. The villager’s problems are further compounded by the lack of access to the market area during winter and spring when the already bad roads are blocked by thick snow and frozen ice. Shahi village is located in the northern part of Panjab district, which is 10 kilometres away from Panjab center, the community’s nearest market hub for supplies and services.
Added to this, the canal is located in the middle of the path where children need to walk through on their way to school. When the canal was destroyed children couldn’t jump over it instead they had to walk an additional half a kilometre out of their way to reach their school. Similarly, people used the pathway over the canal to get from their village to the district, bazaar, clinic etc. Livestock needed access to that path to get to grazing grounds. Once the canal was destroyed, it made the village more isolated than before, especially during the winter when any potential alternative routes became impassable due to the thick snow and ice.
The Ready for Anything (RFA) project intervention
Reflection circles were formed before the project began, to build women’s leadership and give them training to enhance their capacity. Women have been trained in growing backyard kitchen gardens to reduce malnutrition in their children and give their family healthier food options. So, there were already mobilised community groups and activities in place to support the implementation of the RFA project. The specific project intervention discussed in this case study is the building of an irrigation canal for the community.
Building the irrigation canal to restore cultivation to the area
Through the provision of heavy duty steel bars and bags of cement by ActionAid Afghanistan the canal was rebuilt. Construction of the canal cost roughly USD 6159 and included building it up to modern technical standards. Farmers contributed their labour and helped to build the canal using stones, sand and gravel, working alongside skilled labourers. ActionAid also provided an engineer. Though the government was aware of the canal construction process they didn’t do anything when the people asked for it, saying that they didn’t have the budget to rebuild the canal.
Since the construction of the irrigation canal, the crops are now getting enough water and the harvests are normal again. People and animals can easily walk across the canal and get to where they need to. Children don’t have to walk the extra distance to school anymore. The canal helps control flooding and landslides. Qambar Zawar said, “Since our crops need to be irrigated we faced a problem when the canal was destroyed. And it was affecting our seasonal products. Normally we would have reduction in our products which was a huge economic loss for us. Having the irrigation canal makes a positive difference to our families.”
Qambar Zawar adds, “In 2014 and 2015 we made our resilience building plan to reduce disasters with ActionAid’s help, so building this irrigation canal was part of our resilience building plan, which will help us prepare better for climate change and disaster. We are also thinking about changing our agriculture products and providing more climate resilient seeds.