Muminabad District in Southern Tajikistan comprises 15 watersheds. The district is one of the poorest in the country and most of its 81,000 inhabitants rely on agriculture. Uncontrolled livestock grazing, continuous wheat cultivation, illegal tree cutting, ploughing on steep slopes led to the degradation of upstream lands and soil erosion. Combined with an increasing population and climate change, communities living in the watersheds are exposed to natural hazards. Seasonal floods have damaged private property and public infrastructure, causing economic losses of up to 200 000 USD annually and resulting in human casualties.
Protecting life and livelihoods
Since 2011, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation supports a project of Caritas Switzerland on integrated watershed management. The aim is to reduce the risk of natural disasters for the 35,000 villagers living in the Obishur, Chukurak, Gesh and Khojahaqiq watersheds. The project focuses on 40 villages which are particularly exposed.
The project started first by collecting data to establish the degree of exposure and the potential socioeconomic impact of natural hazards. Based on that, preventive actions were taken: levees and drainage canals have been constructed to protect villagers against flash floods for example. Sustainable land management techniques were also used to reduce the risk of disaster. This includes crop and pasture rotation as well as reforestation. Planted trees and bushes act now as natural barriers to retain sediments which used to threaten villages located downstream.
Sustainable land management as a way out of poverty
Pastureland, agricultural land and forest are not only being maintained but steadily improved in watershed areas. More than 2,000 hectares have been designated as protected areas in order to recover the areas that suffered from massive deforestation. The use of energy-efficient cooking and heating stoves and water heaters have led to 20% decrease on wood consumption. Families that have practiced sustainable land management have seen their income grow by about 10%.
Strong involvement of local actors
Local population and the authorities take an active part in the management of the watersheds. They participated in designing an action plan for each watershed which determines the sustainable land management techniques. 32 pasture user unions have been established for organizing pasture rotation, developing water points and regulating livestock numbers.
The population of Muminabad already benefits from the long-term effects of the project: there is a lower risk of flooding, local people are spending less money on firewood, and they have a higher income from agriculture and livestock production.