MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on January 10 kicked off the construction of three irrigation canals in villages of Chahar Bolak district of Balkh province.
The work has created 560 job opportunities in the district, said Mohammad Rafi Amiri, Balkh's OCHA director.
The work will be completed in nine months, he added.
"The canal in Darghan village is 466 metres long, the one in Ab Frosh village is 500 metres, and the one in Naward-e-Kohna 400 metres," Amiri said, adding that the project will cost 50 million AFN ($560,000).
"The project is being implemented in response to repeated requests by farmers in these villages," he said.
"After the project is completed, thousands of hectares of land that were suffering from water shortages will turn into double-harvest lands."
Every worker will be paid 8,900 AFN ($100) in wages each month, Amiri added.
"Currently, some 560 locals work on the construction of the canals, which allows them to gain income and contribute to the prosperity of their communities," he said.
Local water sources will also improve with this project.
In a technically sound fashion, Amiri said, workers will build the local irrigation canals that have been filled or damaged due to heightened water levels and other natural disasters.
Critical need for project
The employment opportunities offered by the OCHA project come at a critical time for locals.
Azizullah, 46, a resident of the Chahar Bolak district, is working on the project to support his family of six.
"I have faced a lot of economic problems this year. I would go to the city every day in search of work but would return empty-handed," Azizullah said.
"Fortunately, I have been working on the canal construction project for a week now," he said. "They pay me $100 every month and I am happy that I will have a job for the next nine months."
Every day from 8am to 3pm, Azizullah is busy mixing cement and gravel with water to prepare concrete for the two sides of the canal.
Like him, hundreds of other workers are busy working on the project to earn a living for their families.
Managing water resources
The OCHA effort comes as the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) completed a 2.4-km-long irrigation canal in Balkh's Dawlatabad district.
Najibullah Yazdanpanah, SCA director in the northern provinces, told Salaam Times the canal was built in five months by the SCA's ABADI project, with financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in the Taligak and Qarshigak villages of Dawlatabad.
The canal was completed on January 10 and will prevent water waste, he said.
"Construction of the canal cost 20 million AFN ($224,000). It will irrigate around 8,000 hectares of agricultural land," he added.
"Farmers in Balkh have been facing damages in recent years due to lack of proper irrigation infrastructure such as water intakes, canals and retaining walls. As a result, they have suffered a lot of economic losses," said Ghulam Hazrat Nabiyar, a Mazar-e-Sharif resident.
"If irrigation canals and dams are built, not only will our water be properly managed, but the economic life of the farmers and their harvests will improve too," he said.
"Unfortunately, drought and insecurity in recent years have negatively impacted the lives of farmers."
"The more support they get, the more domestic products we will have, which will improve our country's economy," he added.
"The construction of these canals will help prevent water waste in the future and agricultural lands will be properly irrigated," said Assadullah Wafa, district governor of Chahar Bolak.
Wafa also called on aid agencies to build cold storage facilities to protect the farmers' seasonal agricultural products and reduce waste.
Farmers have welcomed the new infrastructure.
Mohammad Mussa, 64, a farmer in Dawlatabad district, said they would previously lose their crops due to water shortages and repeated droughts, leading to financial losses.
"We have been facing water shortages for years. We could cultivate wheat sometimes but never rice, since there were no irrigation canals or sufficient water," he said.
"We are very happy now that in addition to wheat, we can cultivate rice, since the demand for rice is high. This will also help improve the famers' economic situations," he added.
Nastratullah, 40, a farmer in the Ab Frosh village of Chahar Bolak district, said that he has 1.2 hectares of land that has turned barren in the last five years due to the destruction of the local canal.
"I used to harvest up to 700kgs of output from every 0.2 hectares of my double-harvest land, but the harvest has dropped to zero in the last five years, since drought and water shortages have turned my land infertile," he said on January 17.
"I am happy now that our canal is being built ... and my lands will start producing again," he added.