KUNDUZ -- An international aid organisation, with funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has started renovation work on an irrigation canal in Aliabad district of Kunduz that will provide water to more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land.
Work on the canal began September 8 and will take three months to complete, according to Faizullah Howaida, director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) in the northern provinces.
The renovation will cost 9 million AFN ($102,000).
"We are fortunately launching the construction work of an irrigation canal in Aliabad district today, which was a long-held wish of the locals -- especially the farmers," Howaida told reporters during the project's ribbon cutting ceremony.
"The canal is 27km long, of which we will rebuild 110 metres that were destroyed by flooding and natural disasters."
"The canal will irrigate about 1,000 hectares of agricultural land, which will also transform infertile and single-harvest lands into double-harvest," he said. "This will definitely have a positive impact on the agriculture output and the livelihood of our farmers."
In addition to providing irrigation water, construction work on the canal will create jobs for hundreds of district residents, according to Howaida.
"SCA in co-operation with its partners, plans to implement similar projects in other districts of Kunduz province to address people's needs in different areas," he added.
Sahar Gul Muradi, CEO of the Kunduz-Shamal construction company, which is implementing the project, urged locals to co-operate with the company in the operation and maintenance of the canal.
"Our expectation from the international community is to support the private sector to address problems faced by people through the implementation of development projects," he said.
Addressing water shortages
Farmers have welcomed the launch of the project.
Juma-ul-ddin, 58, a farmer in Aliabad district, said farmers' crops often perish from water shortages and regular droughts, resulting in financial losses.
"We have been facing water shortages for years," he said. "We could harvest some wheat, but we could never grow rice."
"With sufficient irrigation water, in addition to wheat, we could grow rice too since there is great demand for rice," he said. "It will also improve household incomes."
The irrigation project will improve livelihoods across the area, said Abdul Samad, 49, a farmer in Lala Maidan village of Aliabad district.
"We had many security and economic problems in the past, but now we hope that the major issues faced by our farmers will be addressed," he said.
"No fundamental [infrastructure] work has been done in our village and surrounding villages in the past 20 years," he said. "There are no bridges, no electricity, no roads. Nothing has been done for us."
"If major issues faced by our farmers are addressed, especially irrigation issues, food prices will drop in the market and the livelihoods of farmers will improve," he said.
Public support for projects
Most of the old irrigation canals in Aliabad have been destroyed by flooding because they were poorly built and repaired only piecemeal over time, according to local residents.
"Very little water used to flow in the canal, which would also be damaged by rising water levels and floods," said Assadullah Salem, a tribal elder in Aliabad.
Residents "used to reconstruct it in a traditional manner without much effectiveness", he said. "But with [proper] construction, lands will be protected and access to water will be restored."
"The canal that is going to be constructed in Lala Maidan village of Aliabad district passes through dozens of other villages allowing residents, especially farmers, to benefit from its water," Salem said.
"We call on other donors to implement public projects in this district since it is in great need of infrastructure projects such as canals, retaining walls, bridges, roads, electricity, drinking water and schools," he said.
Residents of Aliabad district welcome and support the implementation of development projects, Salem said, adding that more infrastructure work is needed.
"With the implementation of this project, enough water will be provided to the farmers who were not able to receive the required amount of water before because of damages and leaks in the canal," said Abdul Khaliq Ibrahim, a representative of the Kunduz governor.
"With the partial construction of the canal, its destruction will be prevented and farmers will receive enough water," he said.
Ibrahim urged for more projects to be implemented in the provincial capital and districts, adding that "such projects can play a positive role in improving the residents' livelihoods".