Feature Story

Water, the gift of life, returns to Safar Khan: Renewed prosperity and hope for rural families of Herat, Afghanistan

October 5, 2018

A GEF-funded, UNDP-implemented project to build canals has completely changed the economic situation of 400 beneficiary families in Afghanistan's Safar Khan and four other nearby villages, dramatically increasing their income and paving the way for people to get back to farming.

All life on Earth depends on water. For those who grow crops to live, however, it is especially important. 

After decades of war, Afghanistan’s economy, and the lives of many of its people depend on agriculture. In the countryside, agriculture, irrigation, and production support the basis of rural life.

Imagine, then, that you are a farmer, and you have seen your land, previously fertile, become dry and arid. As the crops fail, and the ground becomes dusty and hard, the local people start to despair, and then they leave, one by one, so that the very future of the community is threatened.

This was the situation for Attaullah, 60, a father and elder of his community in Safar Khan village in Herat province.


Attaullah, an elder in Safar Khan village in Herat province, is grateful the project has improved lives in his community. © S. Omer Sadaat/UNDP

Without water, there is no life

“Previously, there was no canal or water management system. Every year, flooding would destroy our lands, and the land would just dry up when the water left.”

When Attaullah’s land dried up, locals began to leave the area. Attaullah’s 25-year-old son, Safiuallah, was one. He left for Iran, across the border, to look for work. The outlook was grim.


Canals keep flooding under control, and save water. © S. Omer Sadaat/UNDP

Today, however, the situation has improved remarkably.

“Now, we have about 100 hectares of land,” says Attaullah cheerfully. “We grow wheat, and various kinds of vegetables.”

The reason for this remarkable turn-around? Four hydro-management canals built under a project strengthening the climate-resilience of rural livelihood options for Afghan Communities in Panjshir, Balkh, Uruzgan and Herat (also known as the ‘Climate Change Adaptation Project’), implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture with the support of the UN Development Programme.

The canals keep flooding under control, and save water.


Valves along the new canals © S. Omer Sadaat/UNDP

“We used to collect about 224 tons wheat each year, but the harvest has doubled since the canal was built,” said Attaullah.

The construction of the canals has completely changed the economic situation of the 400 beneficiary families in Safar Khan and four other nearby villages, dramatically increasing their income and paving the way for people to get back to farming.

“Our main income is from selling agricultural produce, like vegetables, beans and cotton,” says Attaullah. “Our livelihoods depend on this produce.”


The construction of the canals has completely changed the economic situation of the 400 beneficiary families in Safar Khan and four other nearby villages. © S. Omer Sadaat/UNDP

After years in Iran, Attaullah's son Safiullah has now returned to Safar Khan village and started working with his father again. The family has started a small livestock farm, which produces dairy products to be sold at market.

“I now have 20 goats, we call them ‘American goats’, and a few cows,” he says. “The villagers sell around 240 litres of milk every day from our own farms.”

Attaullah is grateful the project has improved lives in his community. 

Water, the gift of life, has returned to Safar Khan.


This story was originally published by UNDP.

The UNDP-supported Climate Change Adaptation Project (2014-2019) is funded by the GEF-Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF).

Under the project, with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock, UNDP has implemented more than 100 livelihoods initiatives, including building greenhouses; training farmers how to process and store food; and protecting 800 hectares of land from flooding. 

Since its inception, the project has improved irrigation for 500 hectares of agricultural land and helped communities repair 30 canals.

Further UNDP projects are helping people adapt and finding jobs in the face of climate change, bringing clean power to rural areas, preparing for natural disasters, establishing and protecting national parks, and conserving biodiversity for future generations.

For more information, click here and follow @UNDPAf on Twitter