Water is essential for survival, and in southern Afghanistan, survival hinges on the 250-mile-long Arghandab River and its reservoir.
The reservoir was created with the 1952 completion of the United States-funded, earthen Dahla Dam. Three decades of war and neglect left the dam, and its network of irrigating canals across Kandahar province, silted and in ruins.
The project is estimated to affect up to two million people, most in Kandahar province.
Mine clearing operations were the first step in the Corps of Engineers two-phase construction plan that will ultimately raise the dam about 25 feet, boosting reservoir holding capacity and increasing water for irrigation and consumption.
When completed nearly 60 years ago, the dam helped turn the region into Afghanistan’s breadbasket, known for growing enough fruit and vegetables to not only feed the country but provide exports. Now, the intake and outlet works don’t operate correctly and sediment reduced the reservoir’s capacity by one-third to one-half, according to estimates.
Towards the end of most summers, the reservoir is depleted, leaving little for people or farmers downstream. According to Helmand and Arghandab Valley Authority, or HAVA, officials, the water supply doesn’t even reach 30 percent of irrigation canals refurbished by the Canadian International Development Agency over the past several years.
The effect should be widespread. Arghandab canal, southern Arghandab canal, Baba Wali canal and the south and north Tarnak canals carry water from the Dahla Dam reservoir. The Arghandab River divides into 55 streams and the canals divide into an additional 55 streams, irrigating lands across Afghanistan’s agricultural heartland.
HAVA officials say the dam now irrigates nearly 98,000 acres of land, but when completed, those numbers should increase to 150,000 acres. Raising the dam will also help supply Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar, which has a population of about 500,000 people.