Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bridges Needed in Flood-Prone Afghan Province

Locals say torrential floods pose threat to their lives as well as harming the local economy.
  • The mountainous terrain of Khost province leaves residents vulnerable to the effects of flooding. (Photo: Andrey/Flickr)
    The mountainous terrain of Khost province leaves residents vulnerable to the effects of flooding. (Photo: Andrey/Flickr)

Residents of Khost province in southeast Afghanistan say a major public works programme is needed to help bridge ravines and protect locals from the effects of seasonal flooding.

The mountainous landscape is criss-crossed by deep canyons that are impassible after heavy rainfall, with numerous fatalities reported each year in flooding.

Hesab, who lives in central Khost, said he had lost both his mother and his aunt to flooding last year.

Weeping, he described how the women had been swept away in the Motun Valley. By the time they were pulled out an hour later, they were both dead.

“I only had my mother in the whole world. I do not have anyone else. It was all because of the lack of a bridge that we are now stricken with grief,” he said.

Drivers sometimes risk their lives – and those of others – to cross the perilous terrain.

Sher Khan, a resident of central Khost, recalled how he had witnessed the death of an entire family.

“Two years ago, a family from Tanay district were on their way back from Khost city after receiving medical treatment,” he recounted. “When the driver wanted to pass through the valley, the water swept the car away. A family of five and the driver died in front of our eyes. No one was able to help.”

Sharifullah, the director of the Natural Disasters Management Agency in Khost, said that last year 17 people had perished in flooding in central Khost alone. In addition, more than 100 cars were destroyed or damaged by floods and over 300 animals killed.

“These are only the figures we registered from the centre of Khost,” he noted. “The main problems are in the districts. Dozens of people and hundreds of animals have been taken by floods, but we do not have the exact figures.”

Mirwais Amani, governor of Musa Khel district in Khost said that 60 people and as many as 3,000 animals had been killed in flooding in his area over the last three years.

In addition, the topography made it hard for the security services to do their work, he added.

 “When I dispatched the police to a criminal incident one night, they went down the ravine due to lack of a bridge, and floods washed them away,” he said. “Luckily, the police were rescued, but their Ranger vehicle was swept away by the water.”

The flash floods also wreak havoc with the local economy, cutting entire communities off from vital services.

Zemarai Haqmal, district governor of Zazi Maidan, said that many residents worked in local government in Khost city and needed to commute to the provincial capital. When the floods came, economic life was simply suspended.

“There are three canyons between our district and Khost city,” he explained. “When floods come, employees, students, shopkeepers and others cannot go to work. Even emergency patients die or have to be taken to Pakistan with extreme difficulty.”

Residents of the districts of Samkani and Aryub Zazai in neighbouring Paktia province can only reach Khost city via Zazi Maidan, so all three districts suffered due to the lack of bridges, Haqmal added.

Khost resident Ajmal Sherzai said that the construction of bridges would boost the commercial life of the province, as well as improving security.

“Khost has a small amount of agricultural land. If bridges are built, thousands of acres of land around the bridges will be developed, or protected from the danger of floods, which will have a positive impact on the people’s economy in its own right.”

Khost governor Abdul Jabbar Naimi acknowledged that more bridges were needed to improve living conditions for local residents, but insisted efforts were already underway.

“We have called in engineers from the ministry of public works to develop maps and plans for bridges in Khost,” he said, adding that he had sent several delegations to Kabul in recent years to petition central government over this issue.

“Currently, five bridges are under construction, but this can only solve a small part of the problem,” Naimi continued.

Mamur Shah, director of public works in Khost, said that in the past ten years, three bridges – at a respective cost of 800,000 dollars, 500,000 dollars and 100,000 dollars - had been built by the Provincial Reconstruction Team.

More were under construction, but he emphasised that the problem was on a huge scale.

“These bridges can solve very few problems. Hundreds of small and large bridges are needed all around Khost,” Shah noted.

Sayed Karim Khaksar, chairman of Khost provincial council, said that he had received dozens of bridge-building requests from across the province.

“We have shared the public’s concerns with officials in Khost as well as with the respective agencies in Kabul, but unfortunately, no one has listened to us,” he said.

Residents of areas where bridges have been built say their lives have been much improved.

“We now realise how enjoyable life can be,” said Abdul Rauf, who lives in Habashkhel village in Motun district, now connected to the nearest town by a walkway over a canyon.

Nesar, a resident of Lakano district, said that a bridge built this year had also transformed their lives.

“Believe me that when there was no bridge, most of our sick people would die due to the lack of medication and doctors, our children would remain deprived of school and our government employees would not be able to go to work for days,”  he said.

“But since the bridge was constructed, the blood has started circulating in our bodies, our life has taken on a new colour and our businesses are doing well.”

Ahmad Shah is an IWPR-trained reporter in Khost province.