UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2010 / 0601 - The Gift of Water

The Gift of Water

By Tom Vincent*

After war in Afghanistan in the 1980s chased Masoom, a farmer, and millions of his compatriots into Pakistan, the land in his native Duuda Must village lay abandoned and its underground irrigation system, or kariz, collapsed.

“My family had five jeribs of land [about 2.5 acres] when we left our home and went to Pakistan,” said Masoom, recalling the period of Soviet occupation of his country, from 1979 to 1989.

“All our villages were destroyed and all our karizes collapsed over the course of three decades,” he added, referring to the unrest that afterward continued to dog the country through years of civil war, Taliban rule, and, since 2001, the US-led war.

Nevertheless, Masoom and his family returned to Duuda Must in 2002 to make their living along with the other 110 families of the village. They rebuilt their homes, but were faced with the problem of how to secure water for their farmlands.

Eighty percent of the farmland in Duuda Must, located in Kabul province, is fed by the kariz system. But the underground irrigation system fell into disrepair during the years of violence and was ignored by the refugees on their return as they struggled merely to survive from day to day.

The families held 1,100 jeribs [about 540 acres] of land in common, but could find only enough water to irrigate about one acre, on which they grew some vegetables.

At about the same time the families returned to Afghanistan, UMCOR opened a field office in Kabul, with the goal to help returning refugees reintegrate into their home villages.  UMCOR’s reintegration programs are holistic and include reconstruction, income generation, health, education, and other aspects.

Since UMCOR opened the field office in Afghanistan more than 130,000 people have benefited from UMCOR-built schools and health clinics, more than 6,300 families have received assistance for income generation projects, and more than 11,000 people now have access to clean water.

Through a program supported by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), UMCOR Afghanistan helped the villagers of Duuda Must clean and restore a number of karizes so that they could have a reliable supply of clean water for irrigation purposes.

The repairs so far have brought irrigation to about 200 acres of farmland, allowing farmers to now grow wheat as well as vegetables. The restored karizes also will sustain the return of other displaced Afghanis back to their homes.

“With UMCOR Afghanistan’s help, we have cleaned some of the karizes and now have more water to cultivate our land,” said Masoom. “We produce more and get more benefit from the land.”

The karizes also provide clean drinking water. “Many people prefer the natural water from the kariz over the water in Kabul,” Masoom adds.

While a significant number of karizes have been repaired in Duuda Must, there are still some 1,000 of these structures yet to be cleaned and restored to use.  Your gift to Afghanistan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #602225 supports this project and others like it in Afghanistan.

*Tom Vincent is UMCOR Afghanistan’s head of mission. Linda Unger, UMCOR staff writer, contributed to this article.