Reviving Ancient Water Irrigation Systems

An Important Contribution to Rural Rehabilitation

Mr. Mirkhel, an Afghan water management specialist from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), and member of the Technical Secretariat of the Supreme Council on Land and Water (TSSCoLW) of Afghanistan, recently arrived in the Netherlands for a three-month study visit to the Technical University of Delft (TU Delft).

His study visit is a continuation of a first visit in 2015. Its objectives are based on the policy priorities of the MRRD of Afghanistan in the area of water management. They are also based on the report and recommendations made by Mr. Mirkhel and Mr. Amir Haidari, a Dutch-Afghan water specialist from TU Delft.

The aim of the second phase of the study visit is to test the modules which Mr. Haidari and Mr. Mirkhel developed during the 1st phase of the study visit. The modules are on the reconstruction and modernization of the ancient Kariz system in Afghanistan. For the Afghan Government, these are policy priorities in the area of water management.The reconstruction and modernization of these ancient water systems will enhance Afghanistan's overall water irrigation system for agricultural purposes. It will also contribute to the availability of fresh drinking water for the people of Afghanistan.

What inspired you to revive the Kariz system in Afghanistan?

Kariz is an ancient and reliable irrigation system from Afghanistan and can be dated back to 3000 years ago. Before conflict broke-out in Afghanistan, the use of Karizes was a source of stability for communities, especially in rural areas. The use of water irrigated and filtered by Kariz systems is huge for agricultural purposes. 

A recent survey conducted in several provinces, showed that about 700 000 hectares of land were irrigated by Karizes before the war. They played a huge part in the social and economic welfare of the people in rural areas. Unfortunately, the most part of Kariz irrigation systems were destroyed by war or simply collapsed from lack of care. A lot of work was needed on them. 

Fortunately, I found an opportunity with IOM and TU Delft under the CD4D framework to work on some of the scientifically technical aspects of Kariz in Afghanistan. This is my second study visit to the Netherlands. After my first visit, I prepared a report on the potential of Kariz in Afghanistan. I have since returned to further perfect the implementation of Kariz systems in Afghanistan.

How did you come into contact with Mr.Hadairi and CD4D?

The institution I work for was contacted through CD4D, an IOM the Netherlands project. They invited some specialists to take part in the CD4D programme on the specifics of Kariz, they then selected me to come to the Netherlands to further perfect Karizes with Mr. Hadairi, my supervisor at TU Delft.

The 4th National Conference on water and National coordination workshop on reviving  Kariz - January 2018.

Can you tell us a little bit about the policy priorities of the MRRD of Afghanistan and your joint recommendations made with Mr. Haidari?

MRRD have two main policies goals, 1) how to remove poverty in rural areas and 2) how to empower rural communities and create a suitable environment for economic growth and prosperity. Their mission is to establish infrastructures in the area of water management, micro-finance and local governance. These are their main activities and they are at the centre of the MRRD policy recommendations.

This is not your first study visit to the Netherlands. What did you achieve and how did this contribute to Afghanistan?

When I finished my work at TU Delft, the TSSCoLW asked me to work together with them on preparing a conceptual note for reviving Karizes. All of the aspects of its revival were explained in this concept note. As an expert on water resources and a member of this committee, I took part in providing a document for reviving of the Karizes based on my first study visit at TU Delft. This was highly appreciated by the cabinet of Afghanistan. 

After that, the President was also interested and he assigned a committee - under the leadership of his Senior Adviser on Agriculture and Development - to prepare an action plan for Kariz. The President of Afghanistan very happily accepted this action plan which stated all Karizes would be rehabilitated by 2022 with a further plan for work on Karizes up to 2030. We have since worked very closely on this ancient water irrigation system.

I would like to add that this committee, together with TSSCoLW are striving for more coordination and collaboration on the revival of Kariz. This led to the first national workshop in Afghanistan in which national and international institutions came together for more coordination and collaboration in the revival of Kariz. It is the first time, in the history of Afghanistan, that we have a responsible engineering office from the Ministry Rural Rehabilitation and Development with a special budget, based on Afghanistan's annual budget, for the revival of Kariz. It was non-existent before. This is a direct result of the above-mentioned efforts.

What was needed now was for the committee to look at how to turn words into actions.

What do you hope to achieve through this study visit which you were not able to do in your first?

Schist is a crystalline metamorphic rock, mostly composed of more than 50% tabular and elongated minerals with grain size coarse enough to be visible to the unaided eye. Schist have a developed tendency to split into layers and are easily shaped and molded to stop the loss of water.

This study visit is especially focused on the technical part of Kariz. After working for some time on Karizes, we came across some problems; two main ones to be precise. The source of Kariz water is found underground, so it is almost always burdened with chemical gas components, that if directly used can affect agriculture. As a result, we had to figure out how to change the water's PH for safe use. The second problem is that we are losing between 30 to 80% of water with the current Kariz systems. We are looking into using local material to prevent the loss of water. For example, some special types of rocks and plants can be used, like schist and khar.

Khar or Zoze, is a plant that roots can grow up to 10 meters down, their presence indicates that groundwater is available which is very valuable in the prevention of water loss in Karizes.

Finally, what are your hopes for Afghanistan?

Peace and stability. The President of Afghanistan's main focus is on harnessing the socioeconomic aspect of peace keeping, in contrast, to the more commonly used military approach. By looking at the civil side of Afghanistan in peace building, I hope to see economic prosperity and stability brought to Afghanistan.