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Executive Summary - Arghandab Irrigation Rehabilitation Project

Project Number: A033627-001

Evaluation Title: End of Project Evaluation of the Arghandab Irrigation Rehabilitation Project (Dahla Dam)
Evaluation Type: Summative
Commissioned by: DFATD - Afghanistan
Consultant: Uhl and Associates and Silk Road Caravan
September 2014

Rationale and Purpose of the Evaluation

This summative evaluation was undertaken to examine the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of one of Canada’s signature projects in Afghanistan, the Arghandab Irrigation Rehabilitation Project (AIRP), also known as the Dahla Dam Project, which was completed in March 2012. The evaluation will enable DFATD to account for the aid expenditures provided to this major infrastructure project for stakeholders and taxpayers. It will also provide the Afghan government with updated information on project outcomes and key recommendations for sustaining this DFATD investment.

Specific Objectives of the Evaluation

The evaluation’s specific objectives were to ascertain results; assess the effectiveness, efficiency, relevance and sustainability of AIRP; and provide findings, conclusions and recommendations in order to draw lessons for future design and implementation of infrastructure projects in challenging environments similar to Kandahar province.

Development Context

Over the last decade, Afghanistan embarked on an unprecedented nation-building agenda and witnessed some remarkable achievements in sectors such as health, education, governance, infrastructure and agriculture. Democratic institutions are not yet fully developed and the system of subnational governance, particularly at the provincial level, remains nascent.

In October 2007 the government commissioned an Independent Panel to examine Canada’s mission in Afghanistan to make recommendations on the future of Canada’s role in Afghanistan. In January 2008, the panel issued its report, more commonly known as the Manley Report.

The Manley Report created the basis for a clear, centrally led, whole-of-government approach with an important civilian presence, including staff from the former Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)—now DFATD—in Kandahar.

The response by the Government of Canada to this report was multi-pronged. First, it resulted in the definition of six policy priorities (grounded in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy and the Afghanistan Compact):

  1. Maintain a more secure environment and establish law and order by building the capacity of the Afghan National Army and Police, and support complementary efforts in the areas of justice and corrections. (Kandahar)
  2. Provide jobs, education, and essential services, such as water. (Kandahar)
  3. Provide humanitarian assistance to people in need, including refugees. (Kandahar)
  4. Enhance the management and security of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. (Kandahar)
  5. Build Afghan institutions that are central to our Kandahar priorities and support democratic processes such as elections. (national)
  6. Contribute to Afghan-led political-reconciliation efforts aimed at weakening the insurgency and fostering a sustainable peace. (national)

To support these six priorities, the Manley Report also called for the implementation of three signature projects that aimed at:

In early 2008 a technical appraisal of the Dahla Dam and its downstream irrigation system was undertaken on behalf of ex-CIDA by a team of experts from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The Technical Assistance Mission Report noted two major problems with the system:

  1. The Dahla Dam reservoir had silted up over time and had lost approximately 30–50 percent of its original capacity.
  2. The downstream irrigation system was in a state of disrepair, causing the loss of approximately 70 percent of the water that flowed through it due to evaporation, seepage and other inefficiencies. Throughout hundreds of kilometres of canals, severe leaks and broken infrastructure was allowing the water to drain across half the province instead of being used for irrigated agriculture.

To address these problems, an amount of $50 million was approved by the Treasury Board on July 21, 2008, for the implementation of the AIRP. Following a competitive bidding process, a contract valued at $41,997,057 was signed December 23, 2008, with a joint venture formed by SNC-Lavalin and Hydrosult.

Development Intervention

The AIRP was the first phase of a comprehensive, multi-faceted development plan that will potentially be implemented over three phases in the Arghandab River Valley of Kandahar province. The project was managed by a joint venture formed by SNC-Lavalin and Hydrosult.

The focus of the Canadian-supported phase was on urgent rehabilitation work to restore water flow in the irrigation system and to improve water distribution and control.

Although the project was often referred to as the Dahla Dam Project, it should be noted that the vast majority of AIRP activities focused on the rehabilitation of physical works downstream of the dam as well as complementary capacity-building activities. Only a small number of the project activities were undertaken at the dam site itself.

The project was aimed at addressing the inefficiencies in the downstream irrigation system. The objectives were to:

  1. rehabilitate the Arghandab irrigation system’s main canals, secondary canals and water control structures, as well as specific and limited work components at the Dahla Dam site;
  2. build irrigation water management capacities within the province and at the national level; and
  3. build the capacities of provincial farmers and water control at the community level (through Mirabs, or water masters) in the areas of on-farm water management and alternative crops.

In October 2011, Canada requested the Central Asia Development Group (CADG) to undertake complementary rehabilitation work through an existing contractual agreement to ensure the achievement of project deadlines. The CADG repaired the main canals south of the Tarnak River, most of the secondary canals, the connector canal from the Arghastan River to the south Tarnak canal, and the drainage canal between the terminus of the north and south Tarnak canals.

As part of the $50-million AIRP envelope, Canada also supported a $2-million initiative to clear mines and other explosive remnants of war from land that is part of the Dahla Dam irrigation system as well as land near Tarnak farms. To promote the development of Afghan capacity, Canada also funded a partnership between Kandahar University and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), based in Bangkok, Thailand. Through this subproject, four faculty members from Kandahar University undertook graduate studies in disciplines critical to the management of the Arghandab irrigation system.

The AIT also helped the engineering department from Kandahar University to revise and improved its curriculum for a master’s degree program in water management.

With Canada’s work complete, the second phase is currently being undertaken by the United States, which consists of restoring the dam's storage capacity by raising its height. The United States divided this second phase in two sub-phases, and a $67-million contract is currently being implemented by an American-Turkish consortium. The extension of the outlet tunnel and the building of a new valve house is planned to be completed by the summer of 2015.


The SNC-Lavalin–Hydrosult joint venture was the main executing agency of the AIRP.

Central Asia Development Group:
In October 2011, CIDA requested the CADG to undertake complementary rehabilitation work on the southern end of the main canal system and secondary canals through an existing contract.

Afghan Ministry of Energy and Water:
The Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW) was ex-CIDA’s principal partner of in the project’s implementation. The MEW was involved from the very beginning of the planning phase through project closure. The MEW deputy minister sat on the project steering committee with ex-CIDA.

Arghandab River Sub-Basin Agency:
The Water Management Department (WMD) was ex-CIDA’s main partner for the implementation of project activities. The WMD was later renamed the Arghandab River Sub-Basin Agency (ASBA) as a result of the AIRP. The ASBA was the direct beneficiary of a number of project outputs, including capacity-building activities and the construction of its new headquarters. The ASBA played a key role in ensuring buy-in from those in the local community who would benefit from the project and in the monitoring of all civil works.

Kandahar University
Through the AIRP, Canada also funded a partnership between the engineering department of Kandahar University and the Asian Institute of Technology.

Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) and Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD)
The Kandahar provincial branches of the MAIL and the MRRD were involved in the overall coordination of the AIRP. They also benefited from key capacity-building activities.

Mirabs, Water Users’ Associations, farmers, Farmer’s Associations and extension workers
This group consists of the local farmers and workers who were hired for temporary construction jobs.

Evaluation Approach and Methodology

The methodology was based on a mix of document review, interviews with key stakeholders, a survey of local beneficiaries, and inspection of the rehabilitated or constructed infrastructures. The evaluation team used an evaluation design matrix. Questions were developed to inform the evaluation criteria and to assess specific project outcomes.

A first field visit to Kandahar province was undertaken in January 2014 to develop the data collection plan. The data collection missions took place during March and April 2014, allowing the evaluation team to inspect the irrigation canals while they were dry and to take water flow measurements once the gates of the Dahla Dam opened in late March.

The principal elements of the field mission included:

  1. farmer family interviews:
    1. Arghandab: 80 farmers, including 19 women
    2. Dand: 76 farmers, including 16 women
    3. Daman: 80 farmers, including 10 women
  2. individual interviews with the ASBA, other line ministries’ key staff, district governors, Tarnak farm staff, and senior faculties of Kandahar University.
  3. six focus group discussions (two per district), involving 14 persons each on average.
  4. canal infrastructure and water control structures inspection.
  5. hydrological and agricultural data collection and analysis.

A large group of key DFATD and SNC-Lavalin–Hydrosult staff from various hierarchical positions was also interviewed.

Key FindingsFootnote *

1) The main canal infrastructure is in reasonably good condition more than two years after the completion of the rehabilitation work. Water control structures (radial gates, drop structures and turnouts) are largely functional and in operating condition. The water flow at the diversion weir is 38.34 m³/second and has remained close to its optimal capacity of 42.5 m³/second.

The condition of the secondary canals showed that many of them could benefit from cement head works near and immediately down gradient of their turnout gates.

2) The diversion weir gates that were repaired under the AIRP are fully operational. The mechanism to control the Arghandab river side gates (sluices, i.e. the gates perpendicular to the diversion weir gates) was not functional as it was reportedly damaged by a car accident in May 2012. ASBA engineers estimate that the loss in flow to the main canal due to the poor functioning of the river side sluice gates is approximately 3 m³/second. The ASBA plans to repair the mechanism during the fall of 2014.

3) The rehabilitated canal drainage systems (Babawali, Arghestan River–south Tarnak canal, and connector between the terminus of the north and south Tarnak canals) are still in good condition.

4) At the beginning of the project, it was estimated that fewer than 20,000 hectares of land benefited from irregular and inefficient access to water from the irrigation system. As a result of canal rehabilitation works, the evaluation team estimates that between 27,500 to 30,000 hectares now benefit from an increased and more reliable access to irrigation water.

5) Surveys conducted with local farmers showed a clear trend in responses as to how the AIRP project impacted them from upstream to downstream (i.e. from Arghandab to Daman districts). The most positive responses came from the Daman district which is in the most southern part of the irrigation system. All—100 percent—of the farmers interviewed indicated an increase in access to irrigation water, crop diversification, market sales, and the number of jobs in general as a result of the project. These farmers had not been provided with water from the irrigation system in more than a decade.

6) Survey responses from the northern district of Arghandab tend to show a quasi–status quo ante in terms of the AIRP’s impact on agricultural productivity and economic livelihood. This can be explained by the impossibility for the AIRP to rehabilitate key secondary canals in the Arghandab valley due to insecurity, the lack of cooperation from local stakeholders, and the somewhat limited impact of the AIRP in the northern part of the network, where, because of their geographic location, farmers had been enjoying a relatively good access to irrigation water prior to the beginning of canal rehabilitation works.

7) From November 2010 to August 2014, DFATD monitored the impact of the AIRP using satellite imagery. This was made possible through a partnership between DFATD, the Canadian Space Agency and Canadian satellite communications company MDA and using RADARSAT-2. This technology was used to monitor trends and patterns in agriculture cycles. This endeavour was not meant to provide a precise account of the number of hectares that the AIRP contributed to returning to sustainable irrigated agriculture. The monitoring also could not differentiate between land connected to the irrigation network flowing from the Dahla Dam and land being irrigated from other sources.

Results: Following a significant increase from 2011 (before the project’s completion) to 2012 (after the project’s completion), there appears to have been a decrease in the land surface being used for irrigated agriculture in the 2013 and 2014 agriculture seasons,Footnote 1 especially in the middle and northern part of Kandahar province. In the most southern part (Daman district), the land surface used for irrigated agriculture peaked in 2013 before starting to follow the same trend.

Due to the unavailability of reliable statistics on rainfall or agriculture productivity in Kandahar province, it is difficult to explain the different causes of this decline. Other factors that might explain this decline are insecurity, drought and a shortage of quality seeds for main crops. By analyzing satellite imagery data from MDA, the evaluation has found that significant land surface that was not irrigated in 2013 and 2014 lie outside of the area covered by the irrigation network in the west and northwest of the Dand district. In these areas, irrigation is from wells and canals outside of the Dahla Dam irrigation network that draws from the Arghandab River.

8) Surveys conducted in the Arghandab, Dand and Daman districts found that ASBA’s stature and position has increased as a result of capacity building activities undertaken through the AIRP. The ASBA has good leadership and engineering know-how, and is in a good position to provide and assist with the management of the irrigation system.

9) Although SNC-Lavalin–Hydrosult developed a canal maintenance manual, the mentoring of ASBA staff on the implementation of the maintenance plan has been insufficient. The ASBA does not currently receive enough funding from the Ministry of Energy and Water to maintain the irrigation network as per the maintenance plans developed through the project.

10) From meetings with ASBA staff and interviews with local farmers in the three districts, there was no knowledge of Water Users’ Associations or Farmers’ Associations that were established under the AIRP. Once the project was complete, Kandaharis reverted to the traditional Mirab system of water management, which has existed for many decades. The senior Mirab is employed by the ASBA and coordinates the work of the 40 local Mirabs.

11) The hydrometric system component of the AIRP was a mitigated success. Only one metrological (out of the two installed) is still operational. The three telemetric gauging stations were disassembled and stored by the ASBA due to security concerns. The 50 flow gauging stations installed along the canal through the AIRP were stolen during the project and have not yet been replaced by the ASBA. The evaluation concluded that the AIRP didn’t succeed in establishing a real flow measurement culture with ASBA. A simpler, low-tech approach involving continuous training and mentoring of ASBA staff would have been more appropriate in the local context.

12) In terms of the efficiency of Canada’s investment, there were no alternatives for irrigation water supply for much of the area covered by the irrigation network other than the repair and rehabilitation of the canal system, which is supplied by the Dahla Dam. Groundwater resources would not have been an alternative given the large amount of groundwater that would be required to irrigate 20,000–30,000 hectares, and also the reported lower quality of the groundwater (higher level of total dissolved solids, or TDS) as compared to TDS levels in the surface water from the canals for irrigation.

13) The Evaluation Team conducted a cost analysis of the AIRP with three similar projects implemented in Afghanistan that were funded by other donors. This was done by comparing the cost of rehabilitation work with the number of hectares returned to sustainable irrigation. The evaluation found that the cost per hectare of the AIRP was comparable with the project ranking in the most expansive segment of the comparison group. As for secondary canal rehabilitation, the evaluation found that the low-key approach used by the CADG was more cost-effective than the one implemented by SNC-Lavalin–Hydrosult.

14) The partnership between Kandahar University and the Asian Institute of Technology was considered to have been successful and effective. The four graduates from the program now serve as lecturers and operate the meteorological station.

Key RecommendationsFootnote *

Recommendations to DFATD for future design, procurement and implementation of similar projects in conflict settings:

  1. Require bidders to form a joint venture between an international company and a local engineering firm.
  2. Implement a one-on-one mentoring function between the prime contractor and the principal local beneficiary organization throughout the whole duration of the project.
  3. Adopt a comprehensive approach to on-farm water management that promotes a mixed use of groundwater and surface water, the banking of excess surface water and the mitigation of seepage losses.
  4. Focus on water-saving mechanisms such as greenhouses, on-farm drip irrigation and plasticulture.

Operational recommendations to the ASBA:

  1. Repair the river side sluice gates located at the diversion weir that were damaged in May 2012.
  2. Install a retaining wall on the east side of the main canal, down gradient of the diversion weir, to prevent large cobbles and boulders entering the canal from the adjacent hillside. Consider having the first few hundred metres of the main canal in this reach completed in masonry.
  3. Remove, on an annual basis, accumulated sediments from drainages that enter the main canal system, particularly along the south Arghandab canal.
  4. Install three to five gauging stations at key locations on the main canal to collect seasonal canal flow data and evaluate seepage losses.
  5. Conduct a thorough seepage loss study over the main canal reach and at the secondary canal diversions to determine where compacting and soil amendments would reduce seepage losses.
  6. Establish a water quality monitoring program for the irrigation system.

Recommendations to improve the efficiency of on-farm irrigation:

  1. Retain the service of a drip irrigation expert to set up on-farm demonstrations (short-term consultancy).
  2. Focus on efficient irrigation methods such as drip-and-furrow irrigation system with siphons from a canal header.
  3. Explore plasticulture applications.
  4. Learn from Farah province’s experience on the application of greenhouses for water saving.

DFATD’s Response

Canada’s development mission in Kandahar province ended with the completion of the Arghandab Irrigation Rehabilitation Project in March 2012. Recommendations from the report will be shared with the Government of Afghanistan and other donors. It will be the responsibility of the Government of Afghanistan to analyze and implement the recommendations related to the operation and maintenance of the irrigation system. Other recommendations related to the planning and implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects in insecure environments will be shared internally with other DFATD programs involved in such development activities.

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