UNDP and climate adaptation in Panjshir

Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable countries for climate change; even here, in beautiful, mountainous Panjshir province.

This is one of Afghanistan’s most peaceful areas, but it’s threatened nonetheless — by climate change. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016
The Panjshir valley winds north into the the Hindu Kush. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016

The Panjshir valley starts about 2 hours’ drive from Kabul and winds north into the Hindu Kush. Isolated and poor, its 140,000 people, mostly farmers, get by on a string of small-scale farms by the side of the river or hacked into the mountainsides. Their lives have always been hard, but they are made even more difficult by desertification and regular floods.

Ghani, a farmer from Panjshir, sits in an area that used to be part of the local forest. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016

This is Ghani. He remembers when this part of the valley where he is sitting now was covered in trees.

“We had a beautiful country 30 years ago. You could see trees and greenery everywhere. But after the war erupted, people had no time and the floods became more frequent. Gradually the forest was destroyed.”
Mubarak Shah, Community Development Council member, remembers better times. © UNDP Afghanistan / Igor / 2016

Ghani’s neighbour, Mubarak Shah, has also watched the landscape deteriorate.

“6 years ago, huge floods destroyed the canal and all the trees here. We repaired the canal by hand — but it was a temporary fix.”

Mubarak knew the floods would come again, and the villagers would have to gather once more — with basic tools, calloused hands and sweat soaked shirts — to repair what they could until the next time.

As climate change makes flooding more frequent, these farmers are increasingly vulnerable. The local canal helps water the land for 450 of them, so when it’s damaged, a lot of people go hungry. And there’s only so much you can do to repair flood damage with a rusty hammer and the help of your neighbours.

To solve the problem for the long term, UNDP has extended and reinforced the canal with stone walls. We’ve also built a “super passage” — something like a giant bridge for flood water that allows runoff from the mountain to go over the canal and safely down into the river.

The “super passage”, which allows flood water to reach the river without damaging the canal. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016

Thanks to these improvements, the canal now irrigates 50% more land than it used to and will continue to do so for years to come.

Kazem’s family is now better off, thanks to a UNDP greenhouse that allows him to grow much more. © UNDP Afghanistan / Rob Few / 2016

Kazem is another Panjshiri farmer who has benefitted from UNDP’s support. In his own words:

“We used to have no vegetables… Growing them was not an option in this climate — the wind and the cold destroyed everything. Then once, when I was on my way to Kabul, I saw a large green tent. I asked myself what it could be. A house? Later, I found out it was actually a greenhouse where vegetables grow faster. Right there and , I knew I had to have one of these. But as a poor farmer, I couldn’t build one myself.”

Kazem asked around and got to know about a UNDP/Ministry of Agriculture project that provides greenhouses for families who need them most.

Kazem tends to his tomatoes. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016
Kazem’s greenhouse was provided by UNDP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility-Least Developed Countries Fund. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016
In harsh climates, this kind of greenhouse can make productivity soar. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016
“This is something very new. [Other farmers] used to laugh at me at the beginning. But when they saw the results, they were shocked,” says Kazem.

Now Kazem has shown how useful these greenhouses are — he grows so much he can sell at a lower price than in the district market. Other farmers want to learn from him how the greenhouse works so they can set up their own.

It’s made a big difference to Kazem’s family, too, He tells us:

“We can buy things we have never had before. We even have our first carpet at home now, which is something every Afghan family should own.”

With canals to irrigate the land and greenhouses to protect from the harsh weather, Panjshir’s famers are producing much more than they used to. But this success brings its own difficulties — how do you store what you cannot immediately sell so that it stays fresh and can be brought to market later?

A UNDP cold storage facility under construction in a village in Panjshir. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer

The answer is cold storage. In Kazem’s village, a new UNDP cold storage facility is nearly complete. It will allow 40 famers to store potatoes, apples and peaches for up to six months, meaning they can sell for higher prices when these products are not normally available in the market.

Villagers in Panjshir discuss plans for using the new UNDP cold storage facility that will help famers store their produce before taking it to market. © UNDP Afghanistan / Igor / 2016

Across Afghanistan, UNDP’s Climate Change Adaptation project staff work closely with vulnerable communities to identify exactly what their problems are and the best ways to solve them. They combine UNDP’s global expertise with their own local knowledge — and their passion for development.

UNDP’s Regional Manager for our Climate Change Adaptation project, Sulaiman. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016
“Dealing with climate change is very important,” says Sulaiman, UNDP’s Regional Manager for our Climate Change Adaptation project. “My staff in Panjshir think of their work as not just a job but also a service to these communities and our country in general.”

This is a five-year, US$10m project made possible by the Global Environment Facility-Least Developed Countries Fund. Over the next three years, hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Agriculture, UNDP will:

  • implement more than 100 livelihoods projects, including building more greenhouses and training farmers on food processing and food storage,
  • protect 800 hectares of land from flooding,
  • irrigate 4,000 hectares of agricultural land,
  • repair 30 canals, and
  • help the government make sure that climate change issues are included in policy and development planning.

You can find out more about UNDP’s work in Afghanistan, here:


facebook.com/UNDPinAfghanistan | twitter.com/UNDPAf

flickr.com/UNDPAfghanistan | youtube.com/UNDPAfghanistan

For information on UNDP’s GEF-LDCF funded climate change adaptation problems globally, see here: http://adaptation-undp.org/

A fresh tomato in Kazem’s greenhouse. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016
The Panjshir River, which feeds the UNDP canal that irrigates land for 450 farmers. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016
Kids play by the “super passage”, which protects the canal from flooding. © UNDP Afghanistan / Omer Sadaat / 2016