MAZAR-I-SHARIF (Pajhwok): Over 44 million afs were spent in vain on river embankments in northern Balkh province by the previous government, Pajhwok Afghan News has learnt reliably.
The funds demanded on an emergency basis for riverside fortification were embezzled during the implementation of the project. As damage to river banks continues unabated, the amount spent has had no impact.
Damage to the river banks continued over the years, destroying tens of acres of agricultural land, homes, orchards, mosques and schools.
Area residents confirmed to Pajhwok that so far two villages — Choqar and Shaikh — had been drowned by the river. The Hazar Toqi village is about to meet the same fate.
Incumbent officials of the River Zone Department confirmed brazen corruption in the past, saying projects for the fortification of river banks had not been effective.
Haji Abdul Khaliq, a Turkmen tribal elder from Shor Tepa district, said tens of acres of land, homes, orchards, schools and mosques had been destroyed and people had suffered huge financial losses as a result of river water.
He said Hazar Toqi village was under threat of drowning. Five more villages face a similar threat every year.
About another looming threat, Abdul Khaleq said two crude oil wells were about to be ruined by river water. One well touched the river water while the other is 400 metres from it.
Fearing destruction of the two oil wells, he warned the government would suffer a major financial loss if it did not pay proper attention to the protection of the facilities.
Jumma Din, a resident of Kaldar district, voiced concern over the current situation and said his house and agricultural land had been submerged. Currently, he is live in a rented house.
“Every year, in spring and early summer, our lands are flooded. The previous government built mud walls to prevent flooding but that did not work,” he complained.
The man said he had lost seven acres of land and a house to river water in recent years.
Acting River Zone Director Maulvi Musa Jan Haqbin acknowledged corruption in past projects, saying 40 percent of funds for riverside fortification were embezzled by former officials.
The River Zone Department and some other organisations had spent 44.2 million afs over the last four years on river embankments in Balkh province, he claimed.
Haqbin said the amount was spent in emergency time but still tens of acres of land and hundreds of homes were damaged by river water.
He confirmed corruption in these projects and said: “This is as obvious as daylight. All our people know corruption was at an all-time high during the past government.
“For instance, if there was need for a five or six metres long gabion cage, former officials constructed only a three or four metre gabion. Corruption did happen then and nobody could deny it.”
Haqbin maintained those projects failed to yield the desired results and inflicted huge losses on the people every year.
He told residents of Kaldar and Shor Tepa district the new government had minimised corruption and effective steps would be taken to ensure the protection of river banks.
Eng. Zabihullah Esmati, head of engineering services at the River Zone Department, alleged earlier embankment projects were politically motivated.
Most of the projects were either implemented in election time or in an emergency, he said, claiming such schemes were not effective in the long run.
He also expressed concern over the eradication of crude oil wells, accusing the previous government of failing to initiate effective measures to control river water. As a result, he noted, people and the government suffered massive financial losses.
So far, he estimated, 20 kilometre of land had been lost to the river in Balkh province and the process still continued. He warned if proper attention was not paid to the problem, more land would be eroded by river water.
Eng. Hashamtullah Watanyar, former head of the River Zone Department, stressed the need for huge funds for strong river embankments. He said sufficient funds were never spent in the past on such projects.
He said in the past efforts were made only on an ad-hoc basis, including the placement of sand bags on the riverside — a stop-gap arrangement.
“Since these were short-term projects, they were never going to be effective over the longer hail. Every year, Afghanistan’s land erodes,” he claimed.
University teacher Hamayun Najafizada, concerned over soil erosion in Afghanistan, said the issue was never taken seriously. As a result, Afghanistan continues to lose land to river water.
One of the reasons why Amu River has been damaging land is non-implementation of effective fortification and corruption in the past government.
They only reason, according to Najafizada, was the construction of a strong retaining wall and plantation of sapling on the riverside.