Advisory team engages on Afghan irrigation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nadine Y. Barclay
  • 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Advisors with the 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group recently conducted a humanitarian site survey mission centered on repairing spillways that deliver water to multiple villages located directly outside Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan, March 22.

The focus of the ongoing mission is to reroute flood water that is causing damage to various aqueduct systems and repair a collapsed karez -- a water supply system that feeds the villagers, livestock and crops of the Moghalan-e-now and Moghalan-khona villages.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Fermo, the deputy commander for the 838th AEAG, said that Afghan community relations projects are crucial to the success of the base.

"The goal of these missions is to establish a positive relationship with the village community, improve local quality of life, and to develop local confidence in (International Security Assistance Force's) and (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's) ability to meet community needs," said Fermo, who is part of a multidisciplinary District Advisory Team.

The initiative differed from previous projects because it marked the first time that members from the local community made initial requests for support through the local governance structure, Shindand director of village affairs, Shindand technical and sector director, and district governor, said Fermo.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Byung-Suk Choi, who served as the lead civil engineer, stated that the mission itself is an important project.

"Water is a scarce and valuable resource, particularly in arid regions such as Shindand," said Choi. "The local populace relies heavily on the Karez, the underground water canal system that is fed from natural runoff water from the mountains in the east, to meet their agricultural needs."

The Afghan New Year, March 21, traditionally marks the start of the growing season, and since the currently damaged waterways are affecting the irrigation of the crops, the team has to overcome many challenges before they can solve the underlying problem.

As Shindand AB's footprint increases, becoming the second largest base in Afghanistan, civil engineers were challenged to come up with drainage systems to channel the water from on base and tie into an existing wadi system, or channel.

"This project will help protect the karez, and the ultimate goal of this project is to have this completed before the next rainy season hits," said Choi.

Humanitarian projects around Shindand must meet many different requirements before being eligible for funds under the Commander's Emergency Response Program and must have considerable consequences if left unfixed, said advisors.

"Currently in Shindand, farmers are harvesting crops of various fruits and summer wheat, so the next three to four weeks will be a critical time for irrigation in order to ensure the crops are not lost," said Fermo. "Because of this, village elders are understandably concerned about the reduced volume of water necessary for irrigating their fields."

Airmen, Sailors and Marines that participated were assigned to various elements as part of the mission, including civil engineering, security and headquarters elements.

"It's vitally important that we have a positive, mutually supportive relationship with the local community," said U.S. Air Force Col. John Hokaj, the 838th AEAG commander. "I believe strongly in including the air wing in as many projects as possible so that the community surrounding Shindand Air Base will understand the value of both the base and the Afghan National Security Forces who are stationed here."

Although no work was completed during this mission, locals were appreciative of the advisors and their efforts to helping solve the problem.

"The villagers were extremely grateful that advisors took the time to come and listen to their concerns," said an 838th AEAG interpreter. "They echoed the importance of building strong relationships between the base and their respective villages."

A happy community translates to a safe base, Hokaj said.

"The more we can work together on projects for the community, the more we can help to improve security and quality of life in Shindand," he said.