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IRIN, October 6, 2009

Flooding Amu River displaces hundreds of people

"Over the past two months, more than 150 houses have been destroyed by the flooding waters of the Amu River,"

By Masoud Popalzai

A flood-stricken family in Eastern Afghanistan
IRIN (Sep. 3, 2009): A flood-stricken family in Eastern Afghanistan. A rapid assessment was planned on 3 September to identify immediate needs. The assessment reported 11 casualties (four dead, seven injured), 289 houses destroyed and 234 damaged, and 30 livestock killed in Nangarhar Province.(Photo: IRIN)

MAZAR-I-SHARIF - Dozens of families from the Kaldar and Shortepa districts of Balkh Province, in northern Afghanistan, have been displaced from their homes after the Amu River burst its banks, provincial officials said.

The Amu - also called the Oxus - is the longest river in Central Asia, with a basin including the territories of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"Over the past two months, more than 150 houses have been destroyed by the flooding waters of the Amu River," Rahmatullah Zahid, head of the disasters management department in Balkh, told IRIN.

More than 900 people in the affected households have either set up tents in the area or have sought refuge in nearby communities, Zahid said.

"They are in need of protection and assistance," he said, adding that some food aid had been distributed among them by provincial authorities.

An increase in the amount of water in the river has also caused some damage in Khamyab and Qarqin districts in neighbouring Jawzjan Province, local officials said.

They said a further increase in the river's water levels could cause severe flooding along its basins, which are said to be very vulnerable to water flow fluctuations.

Livelihoods lost

On the banks of the Amu River are farm and pasture lands that provide livelihoods to hundreds of local households.

Over the years, erratic flooding and water-induced erosion have destroyed or submerged large agricultural areas near the river in Balkh and Jawzjan provinces. "Our lands have been constantly submerged and destroyed by river water," Mohammad Azeem, a local farmer, told IRIN.

Another man said he had lost over half his agricultural land over the past three years.

"For many years we have been pleading to the government to fix the riverbanks but it has done nothing," said Abdul Sataar, a farmer in Shortepa District.

Neighbouring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have reportedly built retainer walls, dams, concrete riverbanks and other reinforcements on their parts of the river, while the Afghan authorities have widely resorted to temporary measures such as the use of gabion boxes and sandbags in the river basin to prevent flooding and quick land erosion.

However, most of these have been washed away by strong currents, provincial officials said.

According to a preliminary assessment done by the government, hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to properly reinforce the riverbanks and protect nearby agriculture fields.

Meanwhile, the European Commission (EC) representation in Afghanistan has committed 2.5 million Euros to a project for the management of Panj River - a major tributary of the Amu in Badakhshan Province in the northeast - and Amu River.

The project's overall objective is to support "the sustainable protection and economic and equitable management of water and land resources across the northeastern Panj-Amu river Basin," according to a press release issued by the EC on 4 October.

Category: Poverty, Healthcare/Environment - Views: 7333