Flood abatement efforts yield mixed results

KABUL, 2 September 2008 (IRIN) - Government efforts to reduce flood risks and damage in vulnerable communities have yielded mixed results.

Flash floods killed about 400 people and destroyed hundreds of houses in different parts of the country in 2007, according to the Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA).

In a bid to reduce the risks of seasonal floods in 2008, the Afghan government has spent about US$1.5million on thousands of gabion boxes.

Gabions are large metal boxes/cages which can be filled with stone and/or gravel and placed on river banks and other locations to work as flood-resistant walls.

"We distributed 90,000 gabion boxes to [all] 34 provinces from March to June 2008," Naseer Ahmad Popal, head of the social protection unit at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), told IRIN.

Positive outcomes

Local people in Behsood District of Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan, said gabion boxes had helped defend their houses and land against flooding on several occasions this year.

"In the past rain often turned into floods and the water destroyed our homes and land, but this year, owing to these gabions, we have not experienced flooding so far," said Abdul Manan, a famer in Behsood.

Behsood District officials said gabion boxes had been effectively positioned, thus creating strong flood-resistance capacity.

Poor outcomes

However, several locals in another vulnerable province, Daykundi, central Afghanistan, did not rate their effectiveness, citing reasons for their alleged failure.

"The gabions placed here are too weak to stop floodwater," said Golam Sakhi, a resident of Nili, the provincial capital of Daykundi.

"We have received too few gabion boxes and therefore they have not been useful," said another man, Hassan Ali.

The MRRD conceded that there were shortcomings in terms of the manner in which they had been deployed in some areas.

"In some cases gabions have been placed in the wrong location and in other cases they have been set up incorrectly," said the MRRD's Popal.

More measures needed

Despite the use of gabion boxes, over 90 people have lost their lives and dozens of houses have been damaged in the several instances of flash floods over the past five months, ANDMA reported.

"Certainly gabions alone cannot impede floodwater everywhere and at all times. There is a need for other measures to mitigate flood risks and also to build flood-resistance capacity," Mohammad Aslam Seyas, deputy director of ANDMA, told IRIN.

Owing to steady deforestation over the past 30 years, the country has lost much of its natural flood-resistance.

According to Seyas, the planting of trees in flood-prone areas, the construction of flood-resistant walls alongside rivers, encouraging people to move out of highly vulnerable locations, and improved water management efforts are some of ANDMA's recommendations for protecting communities against flood risks.

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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