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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.

Some Memos

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

Helmand Analyst
USAID (retired)