The Panj-Amu River Basin Programme (P-ARBP)

 A Water user association meeting

A Water user association meeting

The Panj-Amu River Basin Programme (P-ARBP) was an EU-funded initiative in Afghanistan supported by Landell Mills as main technical services provider between 2009 and 2017. Support was provided in cooperation with the Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW); Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; and other government agencies.

The overall objective of the project was ‘to contribute to the improvement of rural livelihoods and thus to the overall economic recovery of Afghanistan, respectfully of the natural resource base.’ Specifically, the contract aimed to ensure that water resources in the country ‘are more economically and equitably managed and sustainably protected’. In April 2018, the programme won best International Development: Non-Physical Project at the British Expertise International Awards.

The economy in Afghanistan relies on agricultural production and so access to irrigated water is essential, however in the north east of the country, lack of efficient water management within the Panj-Amu River Basin meant that much of the water in the area was being wasted. In addition, factors such as climate change, a rapidly growing population and demand from hydropower all jeopardise the availability of water in the country.

The solution required an integrated approach to the management of water between different users, while at the same time improving the effectiveness and efficiency of water delivery infrastructure. P-ARBP provided this by focussing on three key areas:

River basin management and planning

  • In order to support the reform of water management institutions from an administrative to a river basin approach, Landell Mills helped establish the first River Basin Agency (RBA) and Sub-Basin Agencies (SBAs) in Afghanistan (as well as the supporting enabling environment such as the water law and procedures). These agencies are under the MEW structure but being at the local level are better able to respond to community needs. Landell Mills also built the capacity of RBA/SBA members to undertake river basin planning so that water is used equitably between upstream and downstream users.  In 2011, Lower Kunduz and Taloqan Sub Basins experienced a drought-induced water shortage. In order to avoid conflict between upstream and downstream users, the SBAs, with Landell Mills’ support, established water allocation teams to control and supervise the water distribution along both rivers. With these measures, serious conflicts were successfully avoided and the available water could be distributed according to the established rotations.

  • At basin level, climate change assessments were carried out on the basis of snow coverage studies in order to have better baseline data for water allocation and flood preparedness. This is of significant importance since in Afghanistan there is a 30 year gap in data on water flow and climate. 

Participatory Irrigation Rehabilitation and Upgrading

  • Construction or rehabilitation of more than 750 versatile, irrigation structures (a capital investment of approximately EUR 50 million), that have helped farmers adapt to rapidly changing and highly dynamic flows in the river. Farm water saving techniques were also developed through participatory technology development techniques. The most promising and successful approach was the System for Rice Intensification (SRI) which was widely adopted by farmers across the project area. Principles included applying a minimum quantity of water, instead of continuous flooding, and the individual transplanting of very young seedlings in a square pattern to give plants more room for root and tiller growth. Landell Mills, in partnership with NGOs under the project, was one of the first organisations in Afghanistan to promote the technology. On twenty-five demonstration plots, yield increased by 22% with a substantial decrease of amount of water used.

  • To ensure the activities of the RBAs and SBAs are undertaken in a participatory manner, almost 800,000 water users were organised into Water User Associations (WUAs) whose representatives can advise and feedback to the agencies. Landell Mills set up and built the capacity of almost 100 WUAs to independently manage irrigation infrastructure, and promote the equitable distribution of water between farmers. WUAs were involved from the outset in selecting works to be built or rehabilitated, approving designs (which were prepared according to latest climate change projections), and assisting in construction supervision.

Upper catchment management

  • Coordination with village natural resource committees and catchment management associations to implement various participatory projects. These aimed at protecting against flash floods, decrease of soil erosion and better drought resilience for the population in the often remote and vulnerable upper catchments. Projects included the regeneration and protection of over 120,000 ha of pastures, rangeland and degraded woodlands, through the establishment of over 1000 household based nurseries, all managed by women, and 650 anti-erosion devices.

 Desilting the river as part of irrigation rehabilitation efforts

Desilting the river as part of irrigation rehabilitation efforts

As a result of the interventions carried out under P-ARBP, over 60,000 ha (56 irrigation schemes) have directly benefited from improved irrigation infrastructure, leading to an increase in irrigated cropped area by 27,000 ha. P-ARBP successfully provided an integrated approach to water management, respectful of the region’s natural resource base. By establishing and working alongside agencies and associations for water users, Landell Mills ensured that the programme’s key stakeholders played a significant role in rehabilitating and upgrading infrastructure in the basin, and improving water management. As a result water is now managed more equitably between upstream and downstream users, both along rivers and within schemes. We also coordinated with village natural resource committees to implement numerous projects, which are better-protecting the area and population from hydrological hazards, as well as making them more resilient to drought.

In order to ensure sustainability, capacity building of stakeholders (including MEW, RBA, SBAs, WUAs, contractors and Universities) was carried out throughout the programme, and a number of guidebooks and manuals produced in the local language. These have been adopted by MEW and are available for download on their website. Training was also provided to RBAs in other basins to share lessons learned and best practise.

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Landell Mills and the EU produced a short film about the impact of P-ARBP, which you can watch here.

Next steps

As a result of the institutional structures that are now in place in the Panj-Amu River Basin, in 2017 the Asian Development Bank (ADB) selected the basin as the target area for a new water resources project to be implemented by the government with ADB and EU financing. Landell Mills worked with the ADB and EU to design and establish the project, which is set to continue until 2022.