19 Jun Ancient Canal in Bamiyan set for Assistance
We recently visited Sayed Abad village in Bamyan Province as part of AREU’s research into water management in northern Afghanistan. According to the locals, the canal in Sayed Abad has been in use for at least 1,000 years. In fact, they tell an interesting story about how Genghis Khan conquered the nearby ancient city of Ghulghulah (the ruins of which are still visible there) by blocking the canal with straw and thus forcing the city to surrender. This story shows just how important water management is for Sayed Abad, which has no rain-fed land. This means its approximately 10,000 residents rely entirely on the irrigation system for their agriculture, which flows from the Dukani River.
The local system for managing water has been established for longer than anyone can remember. Water rights are divided into turns (called nobat in Dari) which last 24 hours per area. However, when the water is flowing to their land, a farmer can only take a set amount of water depending on the size of their landholding. The turns cycle through the lower and upper areas of the village over a 16 day period, at which time the village takes a 16 day break and water is accessed by neighbouring settlements. Water rights are associated with land and are passed down through generations as inheritance.
According to Alem, a resident of Sayed Abad village, any decisions regarding water are made by the local men in a shura (council). The responsibility for day-to-day management of canal water is given to a mirab (a “water master”) who is elected by the farmers for one-year terms. Each owner of water rights gives wheat and potatoes to the mirab during harvest time as wages for his services.
The residents told us that they face many kinds of problems, such as water robbery, water shortages, damage of the canal by floods, and water being absorbing by sand. If the canal is shut down due to heavy snow falls or rain, the mirab collects the locals together through a shura to repair it. He also does this for maintenance tasks like desilting.
However, such a system of self-reliance is not necessarily what the people Syed Abad want. They complain that they have requested help rehabilitating the canal from various government ministries and NGOs, but to no avail. This has definitely led to a feeling of alienation there.
“Although there is insecurity and strong insurgency activities in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan, the government pays more attention there, pumping in assistance but getting no result. But the government does not pay attention to Bamiyan province, which is quite safe and secure for everyone,” said one of our research respondents.
According to the government’s Water Management Department, part of the problem is that Syed Abad’s canal was not included in the provincial development plan, which was made by Bamiyan’s provincial development council. Government policy is that projects on the plan get priority. This situation appears to be changing though. The Panj Amu River Basin Programme, which is funded by the European Commission, focuses on the rehabilitation and construction of canals, capacity-building for local farmers, and participatory management irrigation systems. Parts of Bamiyan, including Syed Abad, are in the upper catchment area of the Panj Amu River Basin, and the programme has now opened an office in Bamyan with plans to work in the Syed Abad area. The canal may end up on a revised provincial development plan, or it might receive assistance directly through the basin management program.
As we’ve outlined, this community has established local methods for managing their water, but they’re also keen to improve their systems and infrastructure. It will be interesting to see what happens when water management assistance finally arrives in Syed Abad, and we hope to be able return to see the changes and consider their impact.