Dredging Up The Past

Speeches Shim

Thursday, September 17, 2020
Ataev Maksat, a 35-year old farmer from Saryyazy, a village in Mary, Turkmenistan
Petro Kotzé

A Clean Riverbed is Changing the Lives of Turkmen Farmers

“When there are floods, we have to build barriers to keep our land safe,” says Ataev Maksat, a 35-year old farmer from Saryyazy, a village in Mary, Turkmenistan. He is a third generation farmer, growing wheat and cotton on his ancestral land. He also raises livestock and tends to his household vegetable garden -- all of which relies on the Murghab, a transboundary river that flows from Afghanistan to Turkmenistan. 

“Since we are so close to the river, we experience flooding every year,” says Ataev. Like many people in the area, Ataev says he has to build temporary barriers around his property to protect it from floods and prevent losses of essential crops. “If my plot floods, my crops spoil, and I will be left without a livelihood for the year.”

Flood barriers are a common local approach to protect land from flooding. Another approach to reduce potential flooding is dredging river beds using specialized equipment. Dredging removes the build-up of silt from the riverbed. Without a dredging program in place, over time, the natural accumulation of silt causes riverbeds to become shallower, which in turn increases flooding in villages and settlements along the banks of the river and deteriorates the soil quality of agricultural lands adjacent to the river. 

The Murghab riverbed hasn’t been dredged in a long time. Over the past three decades, the riverbed has risen by nearly three meters. Additionally, the risk of flooding was exacerbated by changes in river flow due to climate change. Consequently, there has been an increase in floods and agricultural losses. 

This has changed in 2020. In December 2019, USAID, in partnership with Turkmen counterparts, invested in a dredger, a vessel equipped to remove silt and sediment from the riverbed, through USAID’s Smart Waters program. 

The Smart Waters program promotes the principles of integrated water resources management, a holistic approach to water management, including considerations of environmental and economic impact. This approach encourages the participation of people from local communities in implementing water management solutions. Through the program, local water users and stakeholders determined the need for a dredger to help manage the Murgab’s seasonal flooding.

The dredger purchased by USAID is now being used by Mary province water management authorities to dredge the Murghab river to the benefit of the people of Mary.  

In addition to preventing flooding, the dredger is reducing the amount of mud being deposited from the river into the Sary-Yazy Reservoir, Mary province’s main reservoir, and an essential source of water for the densely populated province.

The enriched soil dug up by the dredger is deposited onto agricultural lands and increases the fields’ productivity.

Ataev believes that his province will benefit significantly from the decreased risk of flooding. The region can now save more water in the Sary-Yazy reservoir due to a decrease in silt deposits. The water will meet the demand for agricultural development in Mary province and will enable local farmers to sow crops without concerns about floods or water shortages. 

“Hopefully, 2020 is a new beginning. Maybe flooding is finally a thing of the past for us in Mary, thanks to USAID’s dredger,” says an optimistic Ataev. Now he can invest his future savings in his household, instead of saving up to battle floods.