A comprehensive program rehabilitates the Swat valley’s agriculture and livelihoods
The Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province is famous in Pakistan for its green landscapes of mountains and fields. When ACTED’s staff from Islamabad travelled to Swat in January to visit the work of the KPK field team, they discovered that vast expanses of previously lush fields had turned completely white. As their vehicles drove closer over the hilly terrain it became clear that the land was covered in white rocks thrown up from the bottom of the river Swat by the flash floods that devastated the valley after the heavy rainfall in the summer of 2010.
Food security in the area has been severely threatened, first by conflict and then by the flooding. When the Pakistan army intervened against the Taliban in 2009, the fighting caused destruction of key infrastructure and fields used for agriculture. The intense military operation also meant people were unable to tend to their crops as they fled from the area to find safety in neighboring districts. As the people of these districts returned home and began to rebuild their livelihoods, they were hit by the flash floods from the River Swat which burst its banks as a result of heavy rainfall in July 2010. This flooding swept away crops that were almost ready for harvesting, killed livestock and devastated fields by filling them will silt and rocks. As a result, in Swat alone 3,000 hectares of rice were lost and 1,990 hectares of fodder for livestock were destroyed.
Another brick in the wall
ACTED began an intervention in July 2010 under the support of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department which sought to provide stability for the people of Swat and Lower Dir. This project focused on rehabilitating agriculture in the area to support livelihoods and food security. In particular ACTED sought to rebuild agricultural infrastructure and provide protection for crops against future floods. In addition, ACTED provided kitchen garden inputs for vulnerable women and veterinary services to protect poultry against diseases.
One of the key achievements of the project was the building of a huge retaining wall in the union council of Kanju (Swat district) that will protect 500 acres of land in the villages of Dherai, Damgar and Kanju. This 1,400 foot long and 8 foot high white stone wall was built through the work of community members from the three villages, which will all benefit from the protection of fields from flooding and soil erosion when the next rainy season starts. In total, 66 men worked for a combined sum of 2,385 days on the wall through a Cash for work scheme. This scheme provides vulnerable men with vital income while rebuilding their own community; the conflict and floods had destroyed many livelihoods opportunities in the area and regularly daily labour has become hard to find.
In total, ACTED and the communities worked together to construct or rehabilitate 35 irrigation channels, 43 water ponds, 78 retaining walls and 31 diversion walls. These interventions to provide the communities of Swat and Dir with agricultural inputs and vital protection infrastructure will, with time, help turn the fields of the valley green again.