Integrated Watershed and Sustainable Land Management to Build the Resilience of Local Communities in Tajikistan

March 4, 2022

Photo: UNDP | The villagers building a flow check barrier to slow down water and prevent gully development. 

Tajikistan is highly vulnerable to natural hazards due to its mountainous terrains, and often experiences flash floods, debris flows, landslides, etc. Zarafshan valley is one of the mountainous regions in Tajikistan. Overpopulation and extensive deforestation in the 90s led to the vast degradation of watersheds resulting in frequent flash flooding and debris flows from the watershed slopes whenever heavy rain or rapid snowmelt occurs. These events have become even more devastating in the last few years due to intensified rainfall and drought patterns caused by climate change and now are identified as one of the highest threats to the local population. In Yori and nearby settlements in the lower Zarafshan valley, twelve people were killed by debris flows and many households were destroyed in 2021.

To address this challenge, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Tajikistan initiated the "Building Climate Resilience in Agriculture and Water Sectors of Rural Tajikistan" project, financed by the Government of the Russian Federation in 2019.

One of the project objectives is to reduce the risks of flash floods and debris flow from micro-watersheds to settlements by restoring the micro-watershed ecosystems and finding sustainable solutions to the use of natural resources. Thus, a specific integrated community-led approach to micro-watershed rehabilitation was designed that uses low-cost methods to make replication by other communities facing similar challenges feasible.

The components of the community-led approach are:

1) Restoration of vegetative cover through the reduction in grazing pressure achieved with fencing and changing herding practices.

2) "Gray" solutions to slow the runoff of water that included physical low-cost control measures such as gabion check dams, bunds, and contour trenches; and lastly

3) "Green" methods to reduce risks in the longer achieved with biological control measures, "living barriers," such as tree and shrub planting

Flash floods and debris flows were addressed gradually from the top of watersheds down to settlements at risk by building “green” and “gray” infrastructures at several heights in each micro-watershed. This method effectively allows to slow down flows along the slopes and stop emerging upper and mid-gully development.

Photo: UNDP | A type of barrier built with locally available low-cost materials: bags filled with sand.

The villagers have contributed to the implementation of the project by performing manual works worth over 5,000 USD. This “community mobilization” approach was intended to build long-term capacity, communities’ commitment and prove replicability.

The results that have been achieved so far:

  • Construction of over 30 flow check barriers and contour trenches complemented by multiple "living barriers" in gullies.
  • Fencing 1.41ha vulnerable areas and planting them with 462 species of diverse trees and shrubs.
  • In addition, the project supported the rehabilitation of two previously constructed concrete dams and the cleaning of accumulated debris.

The initiative benefits over 5000 people in four villages of Penjikent and Ayni districts by using the capacity of the local community so that the costs remain low. Full results will only be reaped over multiple years as communities, according to the rehabilitation plans, step by step increase the number of physical structures and plants. In the next few years, maintenance of the achieved progress and further implementation will significantly reduce debris flows and flash flood.  

This sustainable micro-watershed initiative demonstrates that with low-cost collaborative actions that target the roots of the problem local communities can be powerful actors in addressing the impacts of climate change.