Asian development bank prepares Afghanistan for new dam

MANILA, Philippines, November 5, 2004 (ENS): Water resources management and irrigated agriculture development are about to transform parts of Afghanistan due to a grant package approved today by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The technical assistance package will include planning and assessment for a new dam on the Hari Rud River that could expand the area of land under irrigation.

The Bank is contributing a grant of $1.2 million toward the $2.06 million total cost of the technical assistance and will administer a grant of $760,000 equivalent provided by the government of Canada. The government of Afghanistan will finance the remaining $100,000 equivalent.

The goal is to improve water resource management at all levels in Afghanistan, from farm level to basin management. It will also rehabilitate, modernize and develop new irrigation and water resource infrastructure, lay the foundations of improved agricultural productivity, and ensure the integrity of watershed resources, the ADB says.

Little of the irrigation potential of the western river basins in Afghanistan has been tapped. But in the middle and lower Hari Rud basin, around Herat, 29 traditional irrigation systems exist with more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) of main canals that irrigate 100,000 hectares (386 square miles) as well as provide water for livestock, domestic use, and municipal supplies.

The existing systems, which are centuries old, are in need of major repair as decades of civil unrest have made routine maintenance difficult and starved the sector of resources and equipment.

"Increasing the productivity of irrigated agriculture and strengthening water resource management are critical to improving the overall rural economy and reducing poverty," says Thomas Panella, an Asian Development Bank water resources specialist.

"In addition to improving existing systems, new land could be brought under irrigation in the western basins, providing significant benefits to rural communities," says Panella.

Bringing new land under irrigation means reviving plans for the Salma Dam on the Hari Rud River which was started and abandoned in the early 1980s. Construction of the dam at this point has been proposed by the government of India, which supported the original project. Funding has been earmarked for the project although no construction schedule has been proposed and the updated feasibility study is not yet available.

The 700 mile (1,130 km) long Hari Rud River arises in the Kuh-e Baba range of central Afghanistan, and flows west and then north into the steppes south of the Kara Kum desert in Turkmenistan. The river irrigates the fertile valley of Herat in northwest Afghanistan, and ends in the Tejen oasis in Turkmenistan, a wheat, cotton, and cattle raising area.

The proposed development of Salma Dam on the Hari Rud River increases the need for basin management and planning since the dam may have a large impact on the flow regime of the river, the Bank suggests.

Strategies to most effectively exploit the dam’s potential for irrigated agriculture in consonance with its planned hydropower generation need to be developed, and basin development should take place within socially and environmentally sound policy frameworks, which do not yet exist.

The technical assistance will allow evaluation of different release regimes in the Hari Rud Basin under the proposed Salma Dam to optimize irrigation rehabilitation and development activities and will review all aspects of the Salma Dam project to ensure that it reflects international best practice and is consistent with ADB social, environmental, and economic guidelines, the Bank said.

The ADB wants to help maximize Salma Dam's development impact, the Bank said, and part of that desire is concern for the "reputational risk" the bank and its cofinancing partners are taking in financing this technical assistance project.

As part of the technical assistance, the project will hire a resettlement specialist to assess all potential resettlement impacts and prepare a resettlement framework consistent with the Bank's guidelines and "assess resettlement activities and plans associated with development of Salma Dam."

Critical to sustaining the water resources on which irrigation depends are the watersheds in the western basins. These have come under increasing pressure and are severely degraded in many areas, greatly affecting the poor and other marginalized groups who depend on these resources.

No institutions exist to manage water at a basin level within the western basins and little data exist to allow adequate water resource planning, the Bank says.

Although improved irrigation is vital to increase agricultural productivity, other factors are involved. The Afghan Department of Agriculture lacks the capacity to deliver agricultural support services. Farmers need assistance with inputs, extension, postharvest facilities, and marketing.

In a country prone to prolonged periods of drought, 85 percent of people remain reliant on agriculture for their livelihood.

The technical assistance will take an integrated approach to designing a project that will establish the needed capacities and frameworks to support successful and sustainable programs and physical infrastructure.

Within an integrated water resource management framework, technical experts hired for the project will prepare an program based on feasibility studies for subprojects and civil works, policies and institutional frameworks, capacity building programs, service delivery mechanisms and strategies, and monitoring and evaluation procedures.

The Afghan Ministry of Finance is the executing agency for the technical assistance, which is to be carried out over about eight months.

In total, the Asian Development Bank aims to prepare an investment project for western Afghanistan in the range of US$60-80 million, of which US$40 million would come from the Bank.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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