The Helmand valley is the home of the largest irrigation system in
Afghanistan and is one of the country's most productive agricultural
regions. These days it is perhaps the primary contributor to some
70% of the world's opium.
While it has been one of the most documented irrigation systems in
the world, beginning with Morrison-Knutsen Construction Company (MKA) of Boise,
Idaho in 1946, such archival information about the area is not readily
available for those who may be starting to work there. This website is
designed to address this problem.
This website makes available a wide variety of reports, studies, memoranda,
dissertations, theses, maps, drawings and photographs that I have collected
since 1971. But the process of expanding the website is on-going as I go
through boxes of materials. Eighty to ninety percent of the materials on
this site will be reports that others have prepared. Somewhere between 10
and 20% of the materials I have written over the years, starting with my
work in the Helmand Valley between 1971 and 1978.
Several of the documents and memos found in this website could not be scanned
in readable condition from my unclear originals because of age and condition.
These have been re-typed but the originals are available from my archives.
And all the official documents are also in the archives of USAID/BuRec/SCS.
It is my understanding that many of the MKA original documents were given
to the University of Nebraska at Omaha Afghanistan Center in the early 1980s
after the Soviet invasion.
I hope the information on this website will prove useful for those planning
to work in Helmand by facilitating an improved understanding of the area,
the people and the economy. I hope this data helps today's program designers avoid repeating
past mistakes. Most problems associated with this region, its people and
their irrigation systems have been studied and analyzed at some point by
scores of specialists who have worked in the Helmand Valley over the years.
While times change and new problems develop, some of the earlier efforts
can shed new light on present strategies.
Helmand province is frequently represented in the media as a homogeneous
mass of Pashtu speaking poppy farmers who cultivate opium because of
pressure from the "Taliban" or because there is no viable alternative. But
Helmand province is far from homogeneous, in terms of ethnicity, tribal
affiliation, irrigation water sources, traditional cropping patterns,
mechanization, land holdings, etc. True, the dominant ethnic group in the
region is Pashtun but even among these, some are considered "indigenous"
and many are living in Helmand as a consequence of land settlement programs
in the "50s, "60s and '70s. And these days there are also "internally
displaced persons", who have moved to the Helmand Valley, mostly in and
around Lashkar Gah, to escape violence. Study of the attached
documentation may help to clarify some of the complexities of this large
but sparsely populated province. (see my paper: Tribal & Ethnic Groups in
the Helmand Valley", 1980.)
These archives contain a wide range of reports from a wide variety of
sources covering a long period of time. One of the problems with people
coming to work in Helmand these days is that they make decisions and put
projects in the field, frequently at great cost, but rarely stay around
long enough to witness the success or failure of what they have done.
Also, typically the people who design projects or write project papers are
rarely the ones who are burdened with the complexities of implementation.
In short, it is important to understand the past and the present social,
political and economic context in order to be able to plan, organize, and
implement effective projects or programs.
The first section of this web contains a series of email memos
that I wrote between 2003 and the present. This section will be added to
over time. It documents views and information of what has been happening in
central Helmand with the generally unsuccessful reconstruction efforts that
relate to the counter-narcotics program. We must keep in mind the relationship
between the lack of an effective integrated, broad scope counter-narcotics program
that combines alternative cash crops, like cotton, a continuous,
promised reconstruction effort, eradication and an involved un-corrupt
local government, and villager support and acceptance of their government.
Proposals for what should (could)
have been done are included in every memo. This series of memos was e-mailed
to 25-30 people in USAID, INL, DFID, WFP, Dept. of State, and other
organizations and people with an interest in Helmand. There are also two
academic papers written on the same subject in 2007-08.
Helmand Farm Economic Surveys
There have been four Helmand Farm Economic
Surveys completed between 1965 and 2000 that reflect the agricultural
changes that were occurring in the region. The "Helmand Initiative Socio-
Economic Survey", completed by AKBAR in 2000 includes some comparable
agricultural data by district but is not as comprehensive as the previous
reports. There are some changes in administrative areas covered by the
surveys as the responsibility for the regional irrigation systems shifted.
For example, between 1970 and 1975, the Helmand Arghandab Valley Authority
(HAVA), the government organization responsible for the management of the
irrigation systems, became the Helmand Valley Authority (HVA), as the
responsibility for the Arghandab Valley was returned to the Kandahar
provincial authorities where it is located.
Maps and Photographs
There are also a series of maps and photographs in
many of the reports. "New" photographs and reports will be added as they
become available, as well as additional archival materials as they surface.
Some of the "sketch maps" associated with some of the reports will have to be re-drawn.
Names and Places
The names of districts have tended to shift over time.
In most of the 1970s reports, the district of Nawa-i-Barakzai, the official
name, was called Shamalan after a small village at the south end of the
district. Presently it is mostly referred to as Nawa. Garmsir was referred
to as Darwishan in most 1970s documents and the major canal through the
area was the Darwishan Canal.
Richard B. Scott