Building Back Better after the Afghanistan Floods
Published: 18 December 2019
Amid security concerns, a multi-donor project helped restore and enhance infrastructure, farms, and basic services in 3 years.
Afghanistan faces many natural risks. Its climate and location bring extreme temperatures and rainfall that could cause extensive destruction. Any type of natural disaster would be a big blow, especially since it is still recovering from a decades-old conflict that tore down many structures in the country.
In the spring of 2014, massive floods destroyed the northern portion of Afghanistan. The country needed immediate help to repair the damage they wrought. Any delay in rebuilding the badly needed infrastructure and the communities would push people, who have already suffered through war, into deeper poverty.
The Asian Development Bank, in partnership with the Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund (AITF), assisted the country though the $56.6-billion Northern Flood-Damaged Infrastructure Emergency Rehabilitation Project. The project helped the government repair damaged irrigation structures to restore irrigable lands and rebuild roads and bridges that connected remote areas to government, social services, and centers of trade.
- October 2014: Approval date
- April 2018: Closing date
- $40 million:Asian Development Fund
- $16.66 million:Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund
- $580,000:Government of Afghanistan
The 2014 northern floods not only destroyed homes and farmlands but also severely damaged irrigation canals and farm-to-market roads. The destruction was a huge threat to food security and poverty reduction efforts in Afghanistan, which is heavily dependent on agriculture.
Rebuilding after the disaster was not easy. Decades of conflict have led to poor security conditions, which meant international development organizations found it difficult—if not impossible—to conduct comprehensive disaster assessment.
Preliminary government estimates of the damage were steep. Losses from floods were pegged at $800 million. Widespread damage to crops pushed many families into further poverty. Emergency assistance was needed not just for humanitarian and economic relief, but for infrastructure as well.
Harsh flooding is common in Afghanistan because heavy rains merge with melted glaciers from the mountains and crash onto the valleys below. The 2014 northern floods were exceptionally severe and regarded locally as the worst in 100 years.
In April to early June 2014, heavy rains over many parts of northern Afghanistan resulted in severe flash floods, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. Public infrastructure, including roads and irrigation canals, were severely damaged. Hundreds of villages were submerged in water, which displaced about 140,000 people living in 123 districts in 27 provinces. The floods devastated 27 of the 34 provinces in the north, central, and eastern regions.
Constant communication with security authorities
Discussions were held with the police and the Afghanistan National Army before the project was implemented. During implementation, consultations were conducted regularly and complemented with extensive communication links with every community to receive the latest information on any emerging security issue.
Projects such as this—urgent in nature, large in scale, and situated in a conflict area—are difficult to implement because of the high cost of rehabilitation and repair. Financing partnerships under the Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund played a major role in ensuring Afghanistan’s speedy recovery from the northern floods. The fund provides an opportunity for bilateral, multilateral and individual contributors to partner with ADB in financing infrastructure investments and improves the livelihood of the Afghan people.
Afghanistan was able to finance the rehabilitation of major roads and irrigation facilities. Without cofinancing, it would have taken a long time for the country to recover.
Use of the build-back-better approach
Construction was implemented using the “build-back-better” approach. This philosophy improves flood resilience through better infrastructure design, building materials, construction methods, and supervision.
The project rebuilt and upgraded irrigation canals in 27 of the worst affected provinces. It built and repaired weirs, aqueducts, and siphons. Retaining walls along the canals were also built to protect the lands from further erosion.
It also reconnected areas that were cut off from the city centers and markets because of the road damage caused by the floods. The roads, spanning over 940 kilometers, ran alongside mountains and hills. Retainer walls were also built beside these to mitigate soil erosion.
The project made use of the people’s willingness to collaborate by training members of the community development council to take part in the rehabilitation activities. They were trained in basic surveying and quality control. Village representatives were also assigned as volunteer contract monitors who were onsite daily to provide project implementers needed support.
Within 3 years, the affected communities and farmlands were restored, including the people’s access to markets. The rehabilitation brought relief to thousands of Afghans affected by the floods and sent them on their way to long-term economic recovery and post-flood reconstruction.
The project achieved more than its targets. More than 82,939 hectares of the flood-affected irrigable area of small-scale irrigation (172% of the target) and more than 16,500 hectares of flood-affected irrigable areas of large-scale irrigation (over 100% of target) were either repaired or upgraded. Roads and bridges, spanning more than 132,000 meters, were repaired. This brought back access to markets and social services. The project also created 81,231 direct and indirect jobs.
Dealing with security concerns
Security is a major issue in Afghanistan where armed conflict has been going on for decades—posing difficulties for any project, especially in this one which covered a wide geographic area. It was important to maintain constant communication with the police, the military, and the residents to make sure all security measures are implemented.
As a precaution, instead of the normal 2-year implementation period for an emergency assistance project, a 3-year period was adopted.
Engaging the residents
Community consultation and citizen engagement were the major elements that facilitated the project’s success. People were given the opportunity to participate in rebuilding their communities and were given employment, which helped them recover faster.
Community engagement after a disaster also enriched the “build-back-better” approach. This helped sustain individual and community well-being, long after the floods have subsided.
Working with partners
Afghanistan has well-developed systems for disaster management and the provision of humanitarian assistance. Many international organizations and governments provide physical and financial assistance to help families recover fast from disasters.
Humanitarian organizations can give immediate assistance, but only for a short period. However, trust funds like the Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund provide more value because it can pool contributions from bilateral, multilateral, and individual contributors to help the government finance infrastructure projects people sorely need. This type of financing partnership maximizes and leverages resources of partners, ensuring the projects’ higher impact, long-term benefits, and better results.
Asian Development Bank. 2014. ADB $40 Million Grant for Flood Reconstruction in Northern Afghanistan. 17 October.
ADB. 2014. $56.6 Million Grant Signed for Flood Reconstruction in Northern Afghanistan. 11 November.
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